• Assessment of proton-coupled conformational dynamics of SARS and MERS coronavirus papain-like proteases: Implication for designing broad-spectrum antiviral inhibitors.

      Henderson, Jack A; Verma, Neha; Harris, Robert C; Liu, Ruibin; Shen, Jana (American Institute of Physics, 2020-09-21)
      Broad-spectrum antiviral drugs are urgently needed to stop the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic and prevent future ones. The novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is related to the SARS-CoV and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which have caused the previous outbreaks. The papain-like protease (PLpro) is an attractive drug target due to its essential roles in the viral life cycle. As a cysteine protease, PLpro is rich in cysteines and histidines, and their protonation/deprotonation modulates catalysis and conformational plasticity. Here, we report the pKa calculations and assessment of the proton-coupled conformational dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 in comparison to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV PLpros using the recently developed graphical processing unit (GPU)-accelerated implicit-solvent continuous constant pH molecular dynamics method with a new asynchronous replica-exchange scheme, which allows computation on a single GPU card. The calculated pKa's support the catalytic roles of the Cys-His-Asp triad. We also found that several residues can switch protonation states at physiological pH among which is C270/271 located on the flexible blocking loop 2 (BL2) of SARS-CoV-2/CoV PLpro. Simulations revealed that the BL2 can open and close depending on the protonation state of C271/270, consistent with the most recent crystal structure evidence. Interestingly, despite the lack of an analogous cysteine, BL2 in MERS-CoV PLpro is also very flexible, challenging a current hypothesis. These findings are supported by the all-atom fixed-charge simulations and provide a starting point for more detailed studies to assist the structure-based design of broad-spectrum inhibitors against CoV PLpros.
    • Proton-Coupled Conformational Activation of SARS Coronavirus Main Proteases and Opportunity for Designing Small-Molecule Broad-Spectrum Targeted Covalent Inhibitors.

      Verma, Neha; Henderson, Jack A; Shen, Jana (American Chemical Society, 2020-12-15)
      The SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) main protease (Mpro) is an attractive broad-spectrum antiviral drug target. Despite the enormous progress in structure elucidation, the Mpro's structure-function relationship remains poorly understood. Recently, a peptidomimetic inhibitor has entered clinical trial; however, small-molecule orally available antiviral drugs have yet to be developed. Intrigued by a long-standing controversy regarding the existence of an inactive state, we explored the proton-coupled dynamics of the Mpros of SARS-CoV-2 and the closely related SARS-CoV using a newly developed continuous constant pH molecular dynamics (MD) method and microsecond fixed-charge all-atom MD simulations. Our data supports a general base mechanism for Mpro's proteolytic function. The simulations revealed that protonation of His172 alters a conserved interaction network that upholds the oxyanion loop, leading to a partial collapse of the conserved S1 pocket, consistent with the first and controversial crystal structure of SARS-CoV Mpro determined at pH 6. Interestingly, a natural flavonoid binds SARS-CoV-2 Mpro in the close proximity to a conserved cysteine (Cys44), which is hyper-reactive according to the CpHMD titration. This finding offers an exciting new opportunity for small-molecule targeted covalent inhibitor design. Our work represents a first step toward the mechanistic understanding of the proton-coupled structure-dynamics-function relationship of CoV Mpros; the proposed strategy of designing small-molecule covalent inhibitors may help accelerate the development of orally available broad-spectrum antiviral drugs to stop the current pandemic and prevent future outbreaks.