• 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.
    • Yeast based small molecule screen for inhibitors of SARS-CoV

      Frieman, M.; Matthews, K.; Taylor, J.; Jones, G. (2011)
      Severe acute respiratory coronavirus (SARS-CoV) emerged in 2002, resulting in roughly 8000 cases worldwide and 10% mortality. The animal reservoirs for SARS-CoV precursors still exist and the likelihood of future outbreaks in the human population is high. The SARS-CoV papain-like protease (PLP) is an attractive target for pharmaceutical development because it is essential for virus replication and is conserved among human coronaviruses. A yeast-based assay was established for PLP activity that relies on the ability of PLP to induce a pronounced slow-growth phenotype when expressed in S. cerevisiae. Induction of the slow-growth phenotype was shown to take place over a 60-hour time course, providing the basis for conducting a screen for small molecules that restore growth by inhibiting the function of PLP. Five chemical suppressors of the slow-growth phenotype were identified from the 2000 member NIH Diversity Set library. One of these, NSC158362, potently inhibited SARS-CoV replication in cell culture without toxic effects on cells, and it specifically inhibited SARS-CoV replication but not influenza virus replication. The effect of NSC158362 on PLP protease, deubiquitinase and anti-interferon activities was investigated but the compound did not alter these activities. Another suppressor, NSC158011, demonstrated the ability to inhibit PLP protease activity in a cell-based assay. The identification of these inhibitors demonstrated a strong functional connection between the PLP-based yeast assay, the inhibitory compounds, and SARS-CoV biology. Furthermore the data with NSC158362 suggest a novel mechanism for inhibition of SARS-CoV replication that may involve an unknown activity of PLP, or alternatively a direct effect on a cellular target that modifies or bypasses PLP function in yeast and mammalian cells. Copyright 2011 Frieman et al.