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J Med Microbiol. 2022 May;71(5). doi: 10.1099/jmm.0.001538.
Introduction. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has caused a serious threat to public health worldwide, and there is currently no effective therapeutic strategy for treating COVID-19.Hypothesis/Gap Statement. We propose that sophocarpine (SOP) might have potential therapeutic effects on COVID-19 through inhibiting the cytokine storm and the nuclear factor NF-κB signalling pathway.Aim. The objective was to elucidate the potential mechanism of SOP against COVID-19 through a network pharmacology analysis and its experimental validation.Methodology. The BATMAN-TCM database was used to identify the therapeutic targets of SOP, while the GeneCards and DisGeNET databases were used to identify the targets related to COVID-19. A protein-protein interaction (PPI) network was constructed from the STRING and analysed using Cytoscape software. Gene ontology (GO), Kyoto Encyclopaedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) and disease ontology (DO) enrichment analyses of the co-targets were performed using Metascape. Autodock 4.2.6 and Pymol software were applied for molecular docking. Levels of the proinflammatory cytokines IL-6, TNFα and IL-1β were measured by ELISA, while mRNA expression levels of intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1), vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) and IFN gamma (IFNG) were detected by real-time quantitative reverse transcription PCR. The protein levels of the molecules involved in the NF-κB signalling pathway were validated by western blot analysis.Results. A total of 65 co-targets of SOP and COVID-19 were determined. GO and KEGG enrichment analyses suggested that SOP affected COVID-19 by regulating the IL-17 signalling pathway, TNF signalling pathway and other signalling pathways. The PPI network and molecular docking showed that p65, ICAM-1 and VEGFA were key targets of SOP against COVID-19 and the underlying mechanism was validated in A549 cells in vitro. SOP attenuated the LPS-induced production of TNF-α and IL-6 and downregulated the LPS-induced mRNA expression of ICAM-1, VEGFA and IFNG. Mechanistically, SOP pretreatment inhibited the phosphorylation of p65 and facilitated the activation of Nrf2.Conclusions. SOP has a potential therapeutic effect on COVID-19 through multiple pathways and targets, and inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and molecules involved in the NF-κB signalling pathway.