The sulfated polysaccharide obtained from a species of red microalga has proved to be a potent antiviral agent against various members of the herpes family. In the present study, we used microscopic Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) to investigate differences between normal cells, those infected with herpes viruses, and infected cells treated with red microalgal polysaccharide. FT-IR enables the characterization of cell or tissue pathology based on characteristic molecular vibrational spectra of the cells. The advantage of microscopic FT-IR spectroscopy over conventional FT-IR spectroscopy is that it facilitates inspection of restricted regions of cell cultures or tissue. Our results showed significant spectral differences at early stages of infection between infected and noninfected cells, and between infected cells treated with the polysaccharide and those not treated. In infected cells, there was an impressive decrease in sugar content and a considerable increase in phosphate levels in conjunction with the infection progress. Our results also proved that sugars penetrated and accumulated inside cells treated with the red microalgal polysaccharide. These could have been sugar fragments of low molecular weight present in the polysaccharide solution, despite purification by dialysis. Such sugar accumulation might be responsible for a breakdown in the internal steps of the viral replication cycle.

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