Ribavirin suppresses eIF4E- mediated oncogenic transformation by physical mimicry of the 7-methyl guanosine mRNA cap.
The eukaryotic translation initiation factor eIF4E is deregulated in many human cancers, and its overexpression in cells leads to malignant transformation. Oncogenic properties of eIF4E are directly linked to its ability to bind 7-methyl guanosine of the 5′ mRNA. Here, we observe that the antiviral guanosine analogue ribavirin binds to eIF4E with micromolar affinity at the functional site used by 7-methyl guanosine mRNA cap, competes with eIF4E:mRNA binding, and, at low micromolar concentrations, selectively disrupts eIF4E subcellular organization and transport and translation of mRNAs posttranscriptionally regulated by eIF4E, thereby reducing levels of oncogenes such as cyclin D1. Ribavirin potently suppresses eIF4E-mediated oncogenic transformation of murine cells in vitro, of tumor growth of a mouse model of eIF4E-dependent human squamous cell carcinoma in vivo, and of colony formation of eIF4E-dependent acute myelogenous leukemia cells derived from human patients. These findings describe a specific, potent, and unforeseen mechanism of action of ribavirin. Quantum mechanical and NMR structural studies offer directions for the development of derivatives with improved cytostatic and antiviral properties. In all, ribavirin’s association with eIF4E may provide a pharmacologic means for the interruption of posttranscriptional networks of oncogenes that maintain and enhance neoplasia and malignancy in human cancer.