Small molecules targeting SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein receptor-binding domain

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Several variants of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged worldwide. These variants show different transmissibility infectivity due to mutations in the viral spike (S) glycoprotein that interacts with the human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) receptor and facilitates viral entry into target cells. Despite the effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, we still need to identify selective antivirals, and the S glycoprotein is a key target to neutralize the virus. We hypothesize that small molecules could disrupt the interaction of S glycoprotein with hACE2 and inhibit viral entry. We analyzed the S glycoprotein-hACE2 complex structure (PDB: 7DF4) and created models for different viral variants using visual molecular dynamics (VMD) and molecular operating environment (MOE) programs. Moreover, we started the hits search by performing structure-based molecular docking virtual screening of commercially available small molecules against S glycoprotein models using OEDocking FRED- software. The FRED- Chemguass4 scoring function was used to rank the small molecules based on their affinities. The best candidate compounds were purchased and tested using a standard SARS-CoV-2 pseudotyped cell-based bioassay to investigate their antiviral activity. Three of these compounds, alone or in combination, showed antiviral selectivity. These small molecules may lead to an effective antiviral treatment or serve as probes to better understand the biology of SARS-CoV-2.