A novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was identified from respiratory illness patients in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, which has recently emerged as a serious threat to the world public health. Hower, no approved drugs have been found to effectively inhibit the virus. Since it has been reported that the HIV-1 protease inhibitors can be used as anti-SARS drugs by tegarting SARS-CoV 3CLpro, we choose six approved anti-HIV-1 drugs to investigate their binding interactions between 3CLpro, and to evaluate their potential to become clinical drugs for the new coronavirus pneumonia (COVID19) caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection. The molecular docking results indicate that, the 3CLpro of SARS-CoV-2 has a higher binding affinity for all the studied inhibitors than its SARS homologue. Two docking complexes (indinavir and darunavir) with high docking scores were futher subjected to MM-PBSA binding free energy calculations to detail the molecular interactions between these two proteinase inhibitors and the 3CLpro. Our results show that darunavir has the best binding affinity with SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV 3CLpro among all inhibitors, indicating it has the potential to become an anti-COVID-19 clinical drug. The likely reason behind the increased binding affinity of HIV-1 protease inhibitors toward SARS-CoV2 3CLpro than that of SARS-CoV were investigated by MD simulations. Our study provides insight into the possible role of structural flexibility during interactions between 3CLpro and inhibitors, and sheds light on the structure-based design of anti-COVID-19 drugs targeting the SARS-CoV-2 3CLpro.
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