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  • Open science discovery of potent noncovalent SARS-CoV-2 main protease inhibitors

    Boby, Melissa L; Fearon, Daren; Ferla, Matteo; Filep, Mihajlo; Koekemoer, Lizbé; Robinson, Matthew C; Chodera, John D; Lee, Alpha A; London, Nir; von Delft, Annette; et al. (2023-11-10)
    We report the results of the COVID Moonshot, a fully open-science, crowdsourced, and structure-enabled drug discovery campaign targeting the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) main protease. We discovered a noncovalent, nonpeptidic inhibitor scaffold with lead-like properties that is differentiated from current main protease inhibitors. Our approach leveraged crowdsourcing, machine learning, exascale molecular simulations, and high-throughput structural biology and chemistry. We generated a detailed map of the structural plasticity of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease, extensive structure-activity relationships for multiple chemotypes, and a wealth of biochemical activity data. All compound designs (>18,000 designs), crystallographic data (>490 ligand-bound x-ray structures), assay data (>10,000 measurements), and synthesized molecules (>2400 compounds) for this campaign were shared rapidly and openly, creating a rich, open, and intellectual property-free knowledge base for future anticoronavirus drug discovery.
  • Peptidylarginine deiminase 2 regulates expression of DGCR8 affecting miRNA biogenesis in gonadotrope cells

    Ralston, Brett A; Khan, Lamia; DeVore, Stanley B; Bronnenberg, Trent A; Flock, Joseph W; Sequoia, Ari O; Thompson, Paul R; Navratil, Amy M; Cherrington, Brian D (2023-07-03)
    In brief: DGCR8 microprocessor complex, which is important for miRNA biogenesis, is regulated by peptidylarginine deiminase 2 and expression fluctuates in gonadotrope cells across the mouse estrous cycle. Abstract: Canonical miRNA biogenesis requires DGCR8 microprocessor complex subunit, which helps cleave pri-miRNAs into pre-miRNAs. Previous studies found that inhibiting peptidylarginine deiminase (PAD) enzyme activity results in increased DGCR8 expression. PADs are expressed in mouse gonadotrope cells, which play a central role in reproduction by synthesizing and secreting the luteinizing and follicle stimulating hormones. Given this, we tested whether inhibiting PADs alters expression of DGCR8, DROSHA, and DICER in the gonadotrope-derived LβT2 cell line. To test this, LβT2 cells were treated with vehicle or 1 µM pan-PAD inhibitor for 12 h. Our results show that PAD inhibition leads to an increase in DGCR8 mRNA and protein. To corroborate our results, dispersed mouse pituitaries were also treated with 1 µM pan-PAD inhibitor for 12 h which increases DGCR8 expression in gonadotropes. Since PADs epigenetically regulate gene expression, we hypothesized that histone citrullination alters Dgcr8 expression thereby affecting miRNA biogenesis. LβT2 samples were subjected to ChIP using an antibody to citrullinated histone H3, which shows that citrullinated histones are directly associated with Dgcr8. Next, we found that when DGCR8 expression is elevated in LβT2 cells, pri-miR-132 and -212 are reduced, while mature miR-132 and -212 are increased suggesting heightened miRNA biogenesis. In mouse gonadotropes, DGCR8 expression is higher in diestrus as compared to estrus, which is the inverse of PAD2 expression. Supporting this idea, treatment of ovariectomized mice with 17β-estradiol results in an increase in PAD2 expression in gonadotropes with a corresponding decrease in DGCR8. Collectively, our work suggests that PADs regulate DGCR8 expression leading to changes in miRNA biogenesis in gonadotropes.
  • FruitFire: a luciferase based on a fruit fly metabolic enzyme [preprint]

    Adams, Spencer T; Zephyr, Jacqueto; Bohn, Markus F; Schiffer, Celia A; Miller, Stephen C (2023-06-30)
    Firefly luciferase is homologous to fatty acyl-CoA synthetases from insects that are not bioluminescent. Here, we determined the crystal structure of the fruit fly fatty acyl-CoA synthetase CG6178 to 2.5 Å. Based on this structure, we mutated a steric protrusion in the active site to create the artificial luciferase FruitFire, which prefers the synthetic luciferin CycLuc2 to D-luciferin by >1000-fold. FruitFire enabled in vivo bioluminescence imaging in the brains of mice using the pro-luciferin CycLuc2-amide. The conversion of a fruit fly enzyme into a luciferase capable of in vivo imaging underscores the potential for bioluminescence with a range of adenylating enzymes from nonluminescent organisms, and the possibilities for application-focused design of enzyme-substrate pairs.
  • Systematic Analyses of the Resistance Potential of Drugs Targeting SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease

    Flynn, Julia M; Huang, Qiu Yu Judy; Zvornicanin, Sarah N; Schneider-Nachum, Gila; Shaqra, Ala M; Yilmaz, Nese Kurt; Moquin, Stephanie A; Dovala, Dustin; Schiffer, Celia A; Bolon, Daniel N A (2023-06-30)
    Drugs that target the main protease (Mpro) of SARS-CoV-2 are effective therapeutics that have entered clinical use. Wide-scale use of these drugs will apply selection pressure for the evolution of resistance mutations. To understand resistance potential in Mpro, we performed comprehensive surveys of amino acid changes that can cause resistance to nirmatrelvir (Pfizer), and ensitrelvir (Xocova) in a yeast screen. We identified 142 resistance mutations for nirmatrelvir and 177 for ensitrelvir, many of which have not been previously reported. Ninety-nine mutations caused apparent resistance to both inhibitors, suggesting likelihood for the evolution of cross-resistance. The mutation with the strongest drug resistance score against nirmatrelvir in our study (E166V) was the most impactful resistance mutation recently reported in multiple viral passaging studies. Many mutations that exhibited inhibitor-specific resistance were consistent with the distinct interactions of each inhibitor in the substrate binding site. In addition, mutants with strong drug resistance scores tended to have reduced function. Our results indicate that strong pressure from nirmatrelvir or ensitrelvir will select for multiple distinct-resistant lineages that will include both primary resistance mutations that weaken interactions with drug while decreasing enzyme function and compensatory mutations that increase enzyme activity. The comprehensive identification of resistance mutations enables the design of inhibitors with reduced potential of developing resistance and aids in the surveillance of drug resistance in circulating viral populations.
  • SARM1, an Enzyme Involved in Axon Degeneration, Catalyzes Multiple Activities through a Ternary Complex Mechanism

    Icso, Janneke D; Barasa, Leonard; Thompson, Paul R (2023-06-12)
    Sterile alpha and toll/interleukin receptor (TIR) motif containing protein 1 (SARM1) is an NAD+ hydrolase and cyclase involved in axonal degeneration. In addition to NAD+ hydrolysis and cyclization, SARM1 catalyzes a base exchange reaction between nicotinic acid (NA) and NADP+ to generate NAADP, which is a potent calcium signaling molecule. Herein, we describe efforts to characterize the hydrolysis, cyclization, and base exchange activities of TIR-1, the Caenorhabditis elegans ortholog of SARM1; TIR-1 also catalyzes NAD(P)+ hydrolysis and/or cyclization and regulates axonal degeneration in worms. We show that the catalytic domain of TIR-1 undergoes a liquid-to-solid phase transition that regulates not only the hydrolysis and cyclization reactions but also the base exchange reaction. We define the substrate specificities of the reactions, demonstrate that cyclization and base exchange reactions occur within the same pH range, and establish that TIR-1 uses a ternary complex mechanism. Overall, our findings will aid drug discovery efforts and provide insight into the mechanism of recently described inhibitors.
  • HIV-1 protease inhibitors with a P1 phosphonate modification maintain potency against drug-resistant variants by increased interactions with flap residues

    Lockbaum, Gordon J; Rusere, Linah N; Henes, Mina; Kosovrasti, Klajdi; Rao, Desaboini Nageswara; Spielvogel, Ean; Lee, Sook-Kyung; Nalivaika, Ellen A; Swanstrom, Ronald; Yilmaz, Nese Kurt; et al. (2023-05-18)
    Protease inhibitors are the most potent antivirals against HIV-1, but they still lose efficacy against resistant variants. Improving the resistance profile is key to developing more robust inhibitors, which may be promising candidates for simplified next-generation antiretroviral therapies. In this study, we explored analogs of darunavir with a P1 phosphonate modification in combination with increasing size of the P1' hydrophobic group and various P2' moieties to improve potency against resistant variants. The phosphonate moiety substantially improved potency against highly mutated and resistant HIV-1 protease variants, but only when combined with more hydrophobic moieties at the P1' and P2' positions. Phosphonate analogs with a larger hydrophobic P1' moiety maintained excellent antiviral potency against a panel of highly resistant HIV-1 variants, with significantly improved resistance profiles. The cocrystal structures indicate that the phosphonate moiety makes extensive hydrophobic interactions with the protease, especially with the flap residues. Many residues involved in these protease-inhibitor interactions are conserved, enabling the inhibitors to maintain potency against highly resistant variants. These results highlight the need to balance inhibitor physicochemical properties by simultaneous modification of chemical groups to further improve resistance profiles.
  • Current insights into the role of citrullination in thrombosis

    Green, R Madison; Thompson, Paul R (2023-05-04)
    Protein citrullination is a post-translational modification of arginine that controls a diverse array of cellular processes, including gene regulation, protein stability, and neutrophil extracellular trap (NET) formation. Histone citrullination promotes chromatin decondensation and NET formation, a pro-inflammatory form of cell death that is aberrantly increased in numerous immune disorders. This review will provide insights into NETosis and how this novel form of cell death contributes to inflammatory diseases, with a particular emphasis on its role in thrombosis. We will also discuss recent efforts to develop PAD-specific inhibitors.
  • Crystal Structures of Inhibitor-Bound Main Protease from Delta- and Gamma-Coronaviruses

    Zvornicanin, Sarah N; Shaqra, Ala M; Huang, Qiu Yu Judy; Ornelas, Elizabeth; Moghe, Mallika; Knapp, Mark; Moquin, Stephanie; Dovala, Dustin; Schiffer, Celia A; Kurt Yilmaz, Nese (2023-03-18)
    With the spread of SARS-CoV-2 throughout the globe causing the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of zoonotic transmissions of coronaviruses (CoV) has become even more evident. As human infections have been caused by alpha- and beta-CoVs, structural characterization and inhibitor design mostly focused on these two genera. However, viruses from the delta and gamma genera also infect mammals and pose a potential zoonotic transmission threat. Here, we determined the inhibitor-bound crystal structures of the main protease (Mpro) from the delta-CoV porcine HKU15 and gamma-CoV SW1 from the beluga whale. A comparison with the apo structure of SW1 Mpro, which is also presented here, enabled the identification of structural arrangements upon inhibitor binding at the active site. The cocrystal structures reveal binding modes and interactions of two covalent inhibitors, PF-00835231 (active form of lufotrelvir) bound to HKU15, and GC376 bound to SW1 Mpro. These structures may be leveraged to target diverse coronaviruses and toward the structure-based design of pan-CoV inhibitors.
  • Selection of HIV-1 for resistance to fifth-generation protease inhibitors reveals two independent pathways to high-level resistance

    Spielvogel, Ean; Lee, Sook-Kyung; Zhou, Shuntai; Lockbaum, Gordon J; Henes, Mina; Sondgeroth, Amy; Kosovrasti, Klajdi; Nalivaika, Ellen A; Ali, Akbar; Yilmaz, Nese Kurt; et al. (2023-03-15)
    Darunavir (DRV) is exceptional among potent HIV-1 protease inhibitors (PIs) in high drug concentrations that are achieved in vivo. Little is known about the de novo resistance pathway for DRV. We selected for resistance to high drug concentrations against 10 PIs and their structural precursor DRV. Mutations accumulated through two pathways (anchored by protease mutations I50V or I84V). Small changes in the inhibitor P1'-equivalent position led to preferential use of one pathway over the other. Changes in the inhibitor P2'-equivalent position determined differences in potency that were retained in the resistant viruses and that impacted the selected mutations. Viral variants from the two pathways showed differential selection of compensatory mutations in Gag cleavage sites. These results reveal the high level of selective pressure that is attainable with fifth-generation PIs and how features of the inhibitor affect both the resistance pathway and the residual potency in the face of resistance.
  • Non-canonical pattern recognition of a pathogen-derived metabolite by a nuclear hormone receptor identifies virulent bacteria in C. elegans

    Peterson, Nicholas D; Tse, Samantha Y; Huang, Qiu Yu Judy; Wani, Khursheed A; Schiffer, Celia A; Pukkila-Worley, Read (2023-02-15)
    Distinguishing infectious pathogens from harmless microorganisms is essential for animal health. The mechanisms used to identify infectious microbes are not fully understood, particularly in metazoan hosts that eat bacteria as their food source. Here, we characterized a non-canonical pattern-recognition system in Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) that assesses the relative threat of virulent Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. Aeruginosa) to activate innate immunity. We discovered that the innate immune response in C. elegans was triggered by phenazine-1-carboxamide (PCN), a toxic metabolite produced by pathogenic strains of P. aeruginosa. We identified the nuclear hormone receptor NHR-86/HNF4 as the PCN sensor in C. elegans and validated that PCN bound to the ligand-binding domain of NHR-86/HNF4. Activation of NHR-86/HNF4 by PCN directly engaged a transcriptional program in intestinal epithelial cells that protected against P. aeruginosa. Thus, a bacterial metabolite is a pattern of pathogenesis surveilled by nematodes to identify a pathogen in its bacterial diet.
  • Allosteric quinoxaline-based inhibitors of the flavivirus NS2B/NS3 protease

    Zephyr, Jacqueto; Rao, Desaboini Nageswara; Johnson, Colby; Shaqra, Ala M; Nalivaika, Ellen A; Jordan, Aria; Kurt Yilmaz, Nese; Ali, Akbar; Schiffer, Celia A (2022-11-19)
    Viruses from the Flavivirus genus infect millions of people worldwide and cause severe diseases, including recent epidemics of dengue virus (DENV), and Zika virus (ZIKV). There is currently no antiviral treatment against flavivirus infections, despite considerable efforts to develop inhibitors against essential viral enzymes including NS2B/NS3 protease. Targeting the flavivirus NS2B/NS3 protease proved to be challenging because of the conformational dynamics, topology, and electrostatic properties of the active site. Here, we report the identification of quinoxaline-based allosteric inhibitors by fragment-based drug discovery approach as a promising new drug-like scaffold to target the NS2B/NS3 protease. Enzymatic assays and mutational analysis of the allosteric site in ZIKV NS2B/NS3 protease support noncompetitive inhibition mechanism as well as engineered DENV protease construct indicating the compounds likely compete with the NS2B cofactor for binding to the protease domain. Furthermore, antiviral activity confirmed the therapeutic potential of this new inhibitor scaffold.
  • Structure of the catalytically active APOBEC3G bound to a DNA oligonucleotide inhibitor reveals tetrahedral geometry of the transition state

    Maiti, Atanu; Hedger, Adam K; Myint, Wazo; Balachandran, Vanivilasini; Watts, Jonathan K; Schiffer, Celia A; Matsuo, Hiroshi (2022-11-19)
    APOBEC3 proteins (A3s) are enzymes that catalyze the deamination of cytidine to uridine in single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) substrates, thus playing a key role in innate antiviral immunity. However, the APOBEC3 family has also been linked to many mutational signatures in cancer cells, which has led to an intense interest to develop inhibitors of A3's catalytic activity as therapeutics as well as tools to study A3's biochemistry, structure, and cellular function. Recent studies have shown that ssDNA containing 2'-deoxy-zebularine (dZ-ssDNA) is an inhibitor of A3s such as A3A, A3B, and A3G, although the atomic determinants of this activity have remained unknown. To fill this knowledge gap, we determined a 1.5 Å resolution structure of a dZ-ssDNA inhibitor bound to active A3G. The crystal structure revealed that the activated dZ-H2O mimics the transition state by coordinating the active site Zn2+ and engaging in additional stabilizing interactions, such as the one with the catalytic residue E259. Therefore, this structure allowed us to capture a snapshot of the A3's transition state and suggests that developing transition-state mimicking inhibitors may provide a new opportunity to design more targeted molecules for A3s in the future.
  • Dual Inhibitors of Main Protease (M) and Cathepsin L as Potent Antivirals against SARS-CoV2

    Mondal, Santanu; Chen, Yongzhi; Lockbaum, Gordon J; Sen, Sudeshna; Chaudhuri, Sauradip; Reyes, Archie C; Lee, Jeong Min; Kaur, Arshia N; Sultana, Nadia; Cameron, Michael D; et al. (2022-11-10)
    Given the current impact of SARS-CoV2 and COVID-19 on human health and the global economy, the development of direct acting antivirals is of paramount importance. Main protease (MPro), a cysteine protease that cleaves the viral polyprotein, is essential for viral replication. Therefore, MPro is a novel therapeutic target. We identified two novel MPro inhibitors, D-FFRCMKyne and D-FFCitCMKyne, that covalently modify the active site cysteine (C145) and determined cocrystal structures. Medicinal chemistry efforts led to SM141 and SM142, which adopt a unique binding mode within the MPro active site. Notably, these inhibitors do not inhibit the other cysteine protease, papain-like protease (PLPro), involved in the life cycle of SARS-CoV2. SM141 and SM142 block SARS-CoV2 replication in hACE2 expressing A549 cells with IC50 values of 8.2 and 14.7 nM. Detailed studies indicate that these compounds also inhibit cathepsin L (CatL), which cleaves the viral S protein to promote viral entry into host cells. Detailed biochemical, proteomic, and knockdown studies indicate that the antiviral activity of SM141 and SM142 results from the dual inhibition of MPro and CatL. Notably, intranasal and intraperitoneal administration of SM141 and SM142 lead to reduced viral replication, viral loads in the lung, and enhanced survival in SARS-CoV2 infected K18-ACE2 transgenic mice. In total, these data indicate that SM141 and SM142 represent promising scaffolds on which to develop antiviral drugs against SARS-CoV2.
  • Mucosal nanobody IgA as inhalable and affordable prophylactic and therapeutic treatment against SARS-CoV-2 and emerging variants

    Li, Qi; Humphries, Fiachra; Girardin, Roxie C; Wallace, Aaron; Ejemel, Monir; Amcheslavsky, Alla; McMahon, Conor T; Schiller, Zachary A; Ma, Zepei; Cruz, John; et al. (2022-09-12)
    Anti-COVID antibody therapeutics have been developed but not widely used due to their high cost and escape of neutralization from the emerging variants. Here, we describe the development of VHH-IgA1.1, a nanobody IgA fusion molecule as an inhalable, affordable and less invasive prophylactic and therapeutic treatment against SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variants. VHH-IgA1.1 recognizes a conserved epitope of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein Receptor Binding Domain (RBD) and potently neutralizes major global SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC) including the Omicron variant and its sub lineages BA.1.1, BA.2 and BA.2.12.1. VHH-IgA1.1 is also much more potent against Omicron variants as compared to an IgG Fc fusion construct, demonstrating the importance of IgA mediated mucosal protection for Omicron infection. Intranasal administration of VHH-IgA1.1 prior to or after challenge conferred significant protection from severe respiratory disease in K18-ACE2 transgenic mice infected with SARS-CoV-2 VOC. More importantly, for cost-effective production, VHH-IgA1.1 produced in Pichia pastoris had comparable potency to mammalian produced antibodies. Our study demonstrates that intranasal administration of affordably produced VHH-IgA fusion protein provides effective mucosal immunity against infection of SARS-CoV-2 including emerging variants.
  • Phomoxanthone A Targets ATP Synthase

    Ali, Rameez; Parelkar, Sangram S; Thompson, Paul R; Mitroka-Batsford, Susan; Yerramilli, Siddartha; Scarlata, Suzanne F; Mistretta, Katelyn S; Coburn, Jeannine M; Mattson, Anita E (2022-09-09)
    Phomoxanthone A is a naturally occurring molecule and a powerful anti-cancer agent, although its mechanism of action is unknown. To facilitate the determination of its biological target(s), we used affinity-based labelling using a phomoxanthone A probe. Labelled proteins were pulled down, subjected to chemoproteomics analysis using LC-MS/MS and ATP synthase was identified as a likely target. Mitochondrial ATP synthase was validated in cultured cells lysates and in live intact cells. Our studies show sixty percent inhibition of ATP synthase by 260 μM phomoxanthone A.
  • Protein citrullination marks myelin protein aggregation and disease progression in mouse ALS models

    Yusuf, Issa O; Qiao, Tao; Parsi, Sepideh; Tilvawala, Ronak; Thompson, Paul R; Xu, Zuoshang (2022-09-08)
    Increased protein citrullination (PC) and dysregulated protein arginine deiminase (PAD) activity have been observed in several neurodegenerative diseases. PC is a posttranslational modification catalyzed by the PADs. PC converts peptidyl-arginine to peptidyl-citrulline, thereby reducing the positive charges and altering structure and function of proteins. Of the five PADs, PAD2 is the dominant isoform in the central nervous system (CNS). Abnormal PC and PAD dysregulation are associated with numerous pathological conditions, including inflammatory diseases and neurodegeneration. Animal model studies have shown therapeutic efficacy from inhibition of PADs, thus suggesting a role of PC in pathogenesis. To determine whether PC contribute to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a deadly neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of motor neurons, paralysis, and eventual death, we investigated alterations of PC and PAD2 in two different transgenic mouse models of ALS expressing human mutant SOD1G93A and PFN1C71G, respectively. PC and PAD2 expression are altered dynamically in the spinal cord during disease progression in both models. PC and PAD2 increase progressively in astrocytes with the development of reactive astrogliosis, while decreasing in neurons. Importantly, in the spinal cord white matter, PC accumulates in protein aggregates that contain the myelin proteins PLP and MBP. PC also accumulates progressively in insoluble protein fractions during disease progression. Finally, increased PC and PAD2 expression spatially correlate with areas of the CNS with the most severe motor neuron degeneration. These results suggest that altered PC is an integral part of the neurodegenerative process and potential biomarkers for disease progression in ALS. Moreover, increased PC may contribute to disease-associated processes such as myelin protein aggregation, myelin degeneration, and astrogliosis.
  • Carbamylation of Integrin αIIbβ3: The Mechanistic Link to Platelet Dysfunction in ESKD

    Binder, Veronika; Chruścicka-Smaga, Barbara; Bergum, Brith; Jaisson, Stéphane; Gillery, Philippe; Sivertsen, Joar; Hervig, Tor; Kaminska, Marta; Tilvawala, Ronak; Nemmara, Venkatesh V; et al. (2022-08-29)
    To investigate carbamylation as a potential mechanistic link between uremia and platelet dysfunction in ESKD, we used liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS/MS) to quantify total homocitrulline, and biotin-conjugated phenylglyoxal labeling and Western blot to detect carbamylated integrin α IIb β 3 (a receptor required for platelet aggregation). Flow cytometry was used to study activation of isolated platelets and platelet-rich plasma. In a transient transfection system, we tested activity and fibrinogen binding of different mutated forms of the receptor. We assessed platelet adhesion and aggregation in microplate assays.
  • The chemical biology of NAD regulation in axon degeneration

    Icso, Janneke; Thompson, Paul R (2022-07-01)
    During axon degeneration, NAD+ levels are largely controlled by two enzymes: nicotinamide mononucleotide adenylyltransferase 2 (NMNAT2) and sterile alpha and toll interleukin motif containing protein 1 (SARM1). NMNAT2, which catalyzes the formation of NAD+ from NMN and ATP, is actively degraded leading to decreased NAD+ levels. SARM1 activity further decreases the concentration of NAD+ by catalyzing its hydrolysis to form nicotinamide and a mixture of ADPR and cADPR. Notably, SARM1 knockout mice show decreased neurodegeneration in animal models of axon degeneration, highlighting the therapeutic potential of targeting this novel NAD+ hydrolase. This review discusses recent advances in the SARM1 field, including SARM1 structure, regulation, and catalysis as well as the identification of the first SARM1 inhibitors.
  • Defining the substrate envelope of SARS-CoV-2 main protease to predict and avoid drug resistance

    Shaqra, Ala M.; Zvornicanin, Sarah N.; Huang, Qiu Yu Judy; Lockbaum, Gordon J.; Knapp, Mark; Tandeske, Laura; Bakan, David T.; Flynn, Julia M.; Bolon, Daniel N.; Moquin, Stephanie; et al. (2022-06-21)
    Coronaviruses can evolve and spread rapidly to cause severe disease morbidity and mortality, as exemplified by SARS-CoV-2 variants of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although currently available vaccines remain mostly effective against SARS-CoV-2 variants, additional treatment strategies are needed. Inhibitors that target essential viral enzymes, such as proteases and polymerases, represent key classes of antivirals. However, clinical use of antiviral therapies inevitably leads to emergence of drug resistance. In this study we implemented a strategy to pre-emptively address drug resistance to protease inhibitors targeting the main protease (M(pro)) of SARS-CoV-2, an essential enzyme that promotes viral maturation. We solved nine high-resolution cocrystal structures of SARS-CoV-2 M(pro) bound to substrate peptides and six structures with cleavage products. These structures enabled us to define the substrate envelope of M(pro), map the critical recognition elements, and identify evolutionarily vulnerable sites that may be susceptible to resistance mutations that would compromise binding of the newly developed M(pro) inhibitors. Our results suggest strategies for developing robust inhibitors against SARS-CoV-2 that will retain longer-lasting efficacy against this evolving viral pathogen.
  • Comprehensive fitness landscape of SARS-CoV-2 M(pro) reveals insights into viral resistance mechanisms

    Flynn, Julia; Samant, Neha S.; Nachum, Gily S.; Bakan, David T.; Yilmaz, Nese Kurt; Schiffer, Celia A.; Moquin, Stephanie A.; Dovala, Dustin; Bolon, Daniel N. (2022-06-20)
    With the continual evolution of new strains of SARS-CoV-2 that are more virulent, transmissible, and able to evade current vaccines, there is an urgent need for effective anti-viral drugs SARS-CoV-2 main protease (M(pro)) is a leading target for drug design due to its conserved and indispensable role in the viral life cycle. Drugs targeting M(pro) appear promising but will elicit selection pressure for resistance. To understand resistance potential in M(pro), we performed a comprehensive mutational scan of the protease that analyzed the function of all possible single amino acid changes. We developed three separate high-throughput assays of M(pro) function in yeast, based on either the ability of M(pro) variants to cleave at a defined cut-site or on the toxicity of their expression to yeast. We used deep sequencing to quantify the functional effects of each variant in each screen. The protein fitness landscapes from all three screens were strongly correlated, indicating that they captured the biophysical properties critical to M(pro) function. The fitness landscapes revealed a non-active site location on the surface that is extremely sensitive to mutation making it a favorable location to target with inhibitors. In addition, we found a network of critical amino acids that physically bridge the two active sites of the M(pro) dimer. The clinical variants of M(pro) were predominantly functional in our screens, indicating that M(pro) is under strong selection pressure in the human population. Our results provide predictions of mutations that will be readily accessible to M(pro) evolution and that are likely to contribute to drug resistance. This complete mutational guide of M(pro) can be used in the design of inhibitors with reduced potential of evolving viral resistance.

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