In Silico Exploration of Repurposing and Optimizing Traditional Chinese Medicine Rutin for Possibly Inhibiting SARS-CoV-2's Main Protease

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an ongoing global pandemic with very limited specific treatments. To fight COVID-19, various traditional antiviral medicines haveb been prescribed in China to infected patients with mild to moderate symptoms and received unexpected success in controlling the disease. However, the molecular mechanisms of how these herbal medicines interact with the virus have remained elusive. It is well known that the main protease (Mpro) of SARS-CoV-2 plays an important role in maturation of many viral proteins such as the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. Here,we explore the underlying molecular mechanisms of the computationally determined top candidate–rutin, a key component in many traditional antiviral medicines such as Lianhuaqinwen and Shuanghuanlian, for inhibiting the viral target–Mpro. Using in silico methods (docking and molecular dynamics simulations), we revealed the dynamics and energetics of rutin when interacting with the Mpro of SARS-CoV-2, suggesting that the highly hydrophilic rutin molecule can be bound inside the Mpro’ pocket (active site) and possibly inhibit its biological functions. In addition, we optimized the structure of rutin and designed a more hydrophobic analog which satisfies the rule of five for western medicines and demonstrated that it possesses a much stronger binding affinity to the SARS-COV-2’s Mpro.