Scalable Inhibitors of the Nsp3-Nsp4 Coupling in SARS-CoV-2

Abdul Rahman Azizogli, Varun Pai, Francesco Coppola, Roya Jafari, Joseph B. Dodd-O, Rohan Harish, Bhavani Balasubramanian, Jatin Kashyap, Amanda M. Acevedo-Jake, Petr Král, Vivek A. Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The human Betacoronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is a novel pathogen claiming millions of lives and causing a global pandemic that has disrupted international healthcare systems, economies, and communities. The virus is fast mutating and presenting more infectious but less lethal versions. Currently, some small-molecule therapeutics have received FDA emergency use authorization for the treatment of COVID-19, including Lagevrio (molnupiravir) and Paxlovid (nirmaltrevir/ritonavir), which target the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and the 3CLpro main protease, respectively. Proteins downstream in the viral replication process, specifically the nonstructural proteins (Nsps1-16), are potential drug targets due to their crucial functions. Of these Nsps, Nsp4 is a particularly promising drug target due to its involvement in the SARS-CoV viral replication and double-membrane vesicle formation (mediated via interaction with Nsp3). Given the degree of sequence conservation of these two Nsps across the Betacoronavirus clade, their protein-protein interactions and functions are likely to be conserved as well in SARS-CoV-2. Through AlphaFold2 and its recent advancements, protein structures were generated of Nsp3 and 4 lumenal loops of interest. Then, using a combination of molecular docking suites and an existing library of lead-like compounds, we virtually screened 7 million ligands to identify five putative ligand inhibitors of Nsp4, which could present an alternative pharmaceutical approach against SARS-CoV-2. These ligands exhibit promising lead-like properties (ideal molecular weight and log P profiles), maintain fixed-Nsp4-ligand complexes in molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, and tightly associate with Nsp4 via hydrophobic interactions. Additionally, alternative peptide inhibitors based on Nsp3 were designed and shown in MD simulations to provide a highly stable binding to the Nsp4 protein. Finally, these therapeutics were attached to dendrimer structures to promote their multivalent binding with Nsp4, especially its large flexible luminal loop (Nsp4LLL). The therapeutics tested in this study represent many different approaches for targeting large flexible protein structures, especially those localized to the ER. This study is the first work targeting the membrane rearrangement system of viruses and will serve as a potential avenue for treating viruses with similar replicative function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5349-5360
Number of pages12
JournalACS Omega
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 14 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


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