Cysteamine exerts in vitro antiviral activity against the SARS-CoV-2 Delta and Omicron variants: Cell Death Discovery

T. Alonzi, A. Aiello, F. Repele, L. Falasca, M. Francalancia, A.R. Garbuglia, G. Delogu, E. Nicastri, M. Piacentini, D. Goletti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The novel SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC) represent a considerable global alarm because their mutations are known to affect transmissibility and cause immune escape. While preventing severe disease and deaths, the available vaccines do not avoid infection; therefore, COVID-19 disease management still requires effective therapies. We have recently reported that the aminothiol cysteamine, a drug already applied to humans, exerts direct antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 and has in vitro immunomodulatory effect. To evaluate whether this compound exerts antiviral effects also against SARS-CoV-2 variants, we performed different infected cell-based assays using Wild type, Delta, or Omicron VOC. We found that cysteamine significantly reduces the cytopathic effect induced by SARS-CoV-2 Wild type strain and Delta variant in Vero E6 cells. On the other hand, cysteamine had no effects on the survival of cells infected with the Omicron variant, due to the lack of cytotoxicity on Vero E6 cells, at least when infected at MOI = 0.001 for 72 h. Moreover, cysteamine significantly reduced the production of Wild type, Delta, and Omicron variants as measured by the virus released in the culture media (Vero E6 and Calu-3 cells) and by transmission electron microscopy analysis (Vero E6 cells). Notably, cysteamine is more effective in inhibiting the Omicron rather than Delta or Wild type viruses, with an 80% inhibition of Omicron production compared to 40% of Wild type and Delta variant. Overall, our findings demonstrate that cysteamine exerts direct antiviral actions against SARS-CoV-2 Delta and Omicron variants, in addition to the Wild type virus. Our data further demonstrate that cysteamine is a good candidate as repurposing drug for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection for the present and, likely, the future VOC and, therefore, it would be important to investigate its clinical relevance in randomized clinical trials. © 2022, The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalCell Death Discov.
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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