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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.
  • Addressing the dNTP bottleneck restricting prime editing activity [preprint]

    Ponnienselvan, Karthikeyan; Liu, Pengpeng; Nyalile, Thomas; Oikemus, Sarah; Joynt, Anya T; Kelly, Karen; Guo, Dongsheng; Chen, Zexiang; Lee, Jeong Min; Schiffer, Celia A; et al. (2023-10-29)
    Prime editing efficiency is modest in cells that are quiescent or slowly proliferating where intracellular dNTP levels are tightly regulated. MMLV-reverse transcriptase - the prime editor polymerase subunit - requires high intracellular dNTPs levels for efficient polymerization. We report that prime editing efficiency in primary cells and in vivo is increased by mutations that enhance the enzymatic properties of MMLV-reverse transcriptase and can be further complemented by targeting SAMHD1 for degradation.
  • Protein citrullination: inhibition, identification and insertion

    Barasa, Leonard; Thompson, Paul R (2023-10-02)
    Protein citrullination is a post-translational modification (PTM) that is catalysed by the protein arginine deiminase (PAD) family of enzymes. This PTM involves the transformation of an arginine residue into citrulline. Protein citrullination is associated with several physiological processes, including the epigenetic regulation of gene expression, neutrophil extracellular trap formation and DNA damage-induced apoptosis. Aberrant protein citrullination is relevant to several autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases and certain forms of cancer. PAD inhibitors have shown remarkable efficacy in a range of diseases including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, atherosclerosis and ulcerative colitis. In RA, anti-citrullinated protein antibodies can be detected prior to disease onset and are thus a valuable diagnostic tool for RA. Notably, citrullinated proteins may serve more generally as biomarkers of specific disease states; however, the identification of citrullinated protein residues remains challenging owing to the small 1 Da mass change that occurs upon citrullination. Herein, we highlight the progress made so far in the development of pan-PAD and isozyme selective inhibitors as well as the identification of citrullinated proteins and the site-specific incorporation of citrulline into proteins. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue 'The virtues and vices of protein citrullination'.
  • Inhibiting MEK1 R189 citrullination enhances the chemosensitivity of docetaxel to multiple tumour cells

    Xue, Teng; Fei, Shujia; Gu, Jian; Li, Nan; Zhang, Pengxue; Liu, Xiaoqiu; Thompson, Paul R; Zhang, Xuesen (2023-10-02)
    Drug resistance is still a big challenge for cancer patients. We previously demonstrated that inhibiting peptidylarginine deiminase 2 (PADI2) enzyme activity with Cl-amine increases the efficacy of docetaxel (Doc) on tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cells with PADI2 expression. However, it is not clear whether this effect applies to other tumour cells. Here, we collected four types of tumour cells with different PADIs expression and fully evaluated the inhibitory effect of the combination of PADIs inhibitor (BB-Cla) and Doc in vitro and in vivo on tumour cell growth. Results show that inhibiting PADIs combined with Doc additively inhibits tumour cell growth across the four tumour cells. PADI2-catalysed citrullination of MEK1 Arg 189 exists in the four tumour cells, and blocking the function of MEK1 Cit189 promotes the anti-tumour effect of Doc in these tumour cells. Further analysis shows that inhibiting MEK1 Cit189 decreases the expression of cancer cell stemness factors and helps prevent cancer cell stemness maintenance. Importantly, this combined treatment can partially restore the sensitivity of chemotherapy-resistant cells to docetaxel or cisplatin in tumour cells. Thus, our study provides an experimental basis for the combined therapeutic approaches using docetaxel- and PADIs inhibitors-based strategies in tumour treatment. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue 'The virtues and vices of protein citrullination'.
  • A phase transition reduces the threshold for nicotinamide mononucleotide-based activation of SARM1, an NAD(P) hydrolase, to physiologically relevant levels

    Icso, Janneke D; Thompson, Paul R (2023-09-22)
    Axonal degeneration is a hallmark feature of neurodegenerative diseases. Activation of the NAD(P)ase sterile alpha and toll-interleukin receptor motif containing protein 1 (SARM1) is critical for this process. In resting neurons, SARM1 activity is inhibited, but upon damage, SARM1 is activated and catalyzes one of three NAD(P)+ dependent reactions: (1) NAD(P)+ hydrolysis to form ADP-ribose (ADPR[P]) and nicotinamide; (2) the formation of cyclic-ADPR (cADPR[P]); or (3) a base exchange reaction with nicotinic acid (NA) and NADP+ to form NA adenine dinucleotide phosphate. Production of these metabolites triggers axonal death. Two activation mechanisms have been proposed: (1) an increase in the nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) concentration, which leads to the allosteric activation of SARM1, and (2) a phase transition, which stabilizes the active conformation of the enzyme. However, neither of these mechanisms have been shown to occur at the same time. Using in vitro assay systems, we show that the liquid-to-solid phase transition lowers the NMN concentration required to activate the catalytic activity of SARM1 by up to 140-fold. These results unify the proposed activation mechanisms and show for the first time that a phase transition reduces the threshold for NMN-based SARM1 activation to physiologically relevant levels. These results further our understanding of SARM1 activation and will be important for the future development of therapeutics targeting SARM1.
  • Development of LB244, an Irreversible STING Antagonist

    Barasa, Leonard; Chaudhuri, Sauradip; Zhou, Jeffrey Y; Jiang, Zhaozhao; Choudhary, Shruti; Green, Robert Madison; Wiggin, Elenore; Cameron, Michael; Humphries, Fiachra; Fitzgerald, Katherine A; et al. (2023-09-11)
    The cGMP-AMP Synthase (cGAS)-Stimulator of Interferon Genes (STING) pathway plays a critical role in sensing dsDNA localized to the cytosol, resulting in the activation of a robust inflammatory response. While cGAS-STING signaling is essential for antiviral immunity, aberrant STING activation is observed in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), lupus, and autoinflammatory diseases such as Aicardi-Goutières syndrome (AGS) and STING associated vasculopathy with onset in infancy (SAVI). Significant efforts have therefore focused on the development of STING inhibitors. In a concurrent submission, we reported that BB-Cl-amidine inhibits STING-dependent signaling in the nanomolar range, both in vitro and in vivo. Considering this discovery, we sought to generate analogs with higher potency and proteome-wide selectivity. Herein, we report the development of LB244, which displays nanomolar potency and inhibits STING signaling with markedly enhanced proteome-wide selectivity. Moreover, LB244 mirrored the efficacy of BB-Cl-amidine in vivo. In summary, our data identify novel chemical entities that inhibit STING signaling and provide a scaffold for the development of therapeutics for treating STING-dependent inflammatory diseases.
  • Targeting STING oligomerization with small-molecule inhibitors

    Humphries, Fiachra; Shmuel-Galia, Liraz; Jiang, Zhaozhao; Zhou, Jeffrey Y; Barasa, Leonard; Mondal, Santanu; Wilson, Ruth; Sultana, Nadia; Shaffer, Scott A; Ng, Sze-Ling; et al. (2023-08-07)
    Stimulator of interferon genes (STING) is an essential adaptor protein required for the inflammatory response to cytosolic DNA. dsDNA activates cGAS to generate cGAMP, which binds and activates STING triggering a conformational change, oligomerization, and the IRF3- and NFκB-dependent transcription of type I Interferons (IFNs) and inflammatory cytokines, as well as the activation of autophagy. Aberrant activation of STING is now linked to a growing number of both rare as well as common chronic inflammatory diseases. Here, we identify and characterize a potent small-molecule inhibitor of STING. This compound, BB-Cl-amidine inhibits STING signaling and production of type I IFNs, IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs) and NFκB-dependent cytokines, but not other pattern recognition receptors. In vivo, BB-Cl-amidine alleviated pathology resulting from accrual of cytosolic DNA in Trex-1 mutant mice. Mechanistically BB-Cl-amidine inhibited STING oligomerization through modification of Cys148. Collectively, our work uncovers an approach to inhibit STING activation and highlights the potential of this strategy for the treatment of STING-driven inflammatory diseases.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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