Janus sword actions of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19

Xuesong Chen, Jonathan D. Geiger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Chloroquine (CQ) and its analogue hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) have been thrust into our everyday vernacular because some believe, based on very limited basic and clinical data, that they might be helpful in preventing and/or lessening the severity of the pandemic coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, lacking is a temperance in enthusiasm for their possible use as well as sufficient perspective on their effects and side-effects. CQ and HCQ have well-known properties of being diprotic weak bases that preferentially accumulate in acidic organelles (endolysosomes and Golgi apparatus) and neutralize luminal pH of acidic organelles. These primary actions of CQ and HCQ are responsible for their anti-malarial effects; malaria parasites rely on acidic digestive vacuoles for survival. Similarly, de-acidification of endolysosomes and Golgi by CQ and HCQ may block severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) integration into host cells because SARS-CoV-2 may require an acidic environment for its entry and for its ability to bud and infect bystander cells. Further, de-acidification of endolysosomes and Golgi may underly the immunosuppressive effects of these two drugs. However, modern cell biology studies have shown clearly that de-acidification results in profound changes in the structure, function and cellular positioning of endolysosomes and Golgi, in signaling between these organelles and other subcellular organelles, and in fundamental cellular functions. Thus, studying the possible therapeutic effects of CQ and HCQ against COVID-19 must occur concurrent with studies of the extent to which these drugs affect organellar and cell biology. When comprehensively examined, a better understanding of the Janus sword actions of these and other drugs might yield better decisions and better outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109706
JournalCellular Signalling
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • COVID-19
  • Chloroquine
  • Endolysosome
  • Golgi
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • de-acidification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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