Increasing the intracellular Zn(2+) concentration with zinc-ionophores like pyrithione (PT) can efficiently impair the replication of a variety of RNA viruses, including poliovirus and influenza virus. For some viruses this effect has been attributed to interference with viral polyprotein processing. In this study we demonstrate that the combination of Zn(2+) and PT at low concentrations (2 µM Zn(2+) and 2 µM PT) inhibits the replication of SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and equine arteritis virus (EAV) in cell culture. The RNA synthesis of these two distantly related nidoviruses is catalyzed by an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), which is the core enzyme of their multiprotein replication and transcription complex (RTC). Using an activity assay for RTCs isolated from cells infected with SARS-CoV or EAV--thus eliminating the need for PT to transport Zn(2+) across the plasma membrane--we show that Zn(2+) efficiently inhibits the RNA-synthesizing activity of the RTCs of both viruses. Enzymatic studies using recombinant RdRps (SARS-CoV nsp12 and EAV nsp9) purified from E. coli subsequently revealed that Zn(2+) directly inhibited the in vitro activity of both nidovirus polymerases. More specifically, Zn(2+) was found to block the initiation step of EAV RNA synthesis, whereas in the case of the SARS-CoV RdRp elongation was inhibited and template binding reduced. By chelating Zn(2+) with MgEDTA, the inhibitory effect of the divalent cation could be reversed, which provides a novel experimental tool for in vitro studies of the molecular details of nidovirus replication and transcription.
Influenza virus infections increase susceptibility to secondary bacterial infections, such as pneumococcal pneumonia, resulting in increased morbidity and mortality. Influenza-induced tissue damage is hypothesized to increase susceptibility to Streptococcus pneumoniae infection by increasing adherence to the respiratory epithelium. Using a mouse model of influenza infection followed by S. pneumoniae infection, we found that an influenza infection does not increase the number of pneumococci initially present within the trachea, but does inhibit pneumococcal clearance by 2 hours after infection. To determine whether influenza damage increases pneumococcal adherence, we developed a novel murine tracheal explant system to determine influenza-induced tissue damage and subsequent pneumococcal adherence. Murine tracheas were kept viable ex vivo as shown by microscopic examination of ciliary beating and cellular morphology using continuous media flow for up to 8 days. Tracheas were infected with influenza virus for 0.5–5 days ex vivo, and influenza-induced tissue damage and the early stages of repair to the epithelium were assessed histologically. A prior influenza infection did not increase pneumococcal adherence, even when the basement membrane was maximally denuded or during the repopulation of the basement membrane with undifferentiated epithelial cells. We measured mucociliary clearance in vivo and found it was decreased in influenza-infected mice. Together, our results indicate that exposure of the tracheal basement membrane contributes minimally to pneumococcal adherence. Instead, an influenza infection results in decreased tracheal mucociliary velocity and initial clearance of pneumococci, leading to an increased pneumococcal burden as early as 2 hours after pneumococcal infection.