Flaviviruses are enveloped, positive single stranded ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses with various routes of transmission. While the type and severity of symptoms caused by pathogenic flaviviruses vary from hemorrhagic fever to fetal abnormalities, their general mechanism of host cell entry is similar. All pathogenic flaviviruses, such as dengue virus, yellow fever virus, West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis virus, and Zika virus, bind to glycosaminglycans (GAGs) through the putative GAG binding sites within their envelope proteins to gain access to the surface of host cells. GAGs are long, linear, anionic polysaccharides with a repeating disaccharide unit and are involved in many biological processes, such as cellular signaling, cell adhesion, and pathogenesis. Flavivirus envelope proteins are N
-glycosylated surface proteins, which interact with C-type lectins, dendritic cell-specific intercellular adhesion molecule-3-grabbing non-integrin (DC-SIGN) through their glycans. In this review, we discuss both host and viral surface receptors that have the carbohydrate components, focusing on the surface interactions in the early stage of flavivirus entry. GAG-flavivirus envelope protein interactions as well as interactions between flavivirus envelope proteins and DC-SIGN are discussed in detail. This review also examines natural and synthetic inhibitors of flaviviruses that are carbohydrate-based or carbohydrate-targeting. Both advantages and drawbacks of these inhibitors are explored, as are potential strategies to improve their efficacy to ultimately help eradicate flavivirus infections.
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