DOI: 10.3390/biom14010043 ISSN: 2218-273X

An Integrated In Silico and In Vitro Approach for the Identification of Natural Products Active against SARS-CoV-2

Rosamaria Pennisi, Davide Gentile, Antonio Rescifina, Edoardo Napoli, Paola Trischitta, Anna Piperno, Maria Teresa Sciortino
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has provoked a global health crisis due to the absence of a specific therapeutic agent. 3CLpro (also known as the main protease or Mpro) and PLpro are chymotrypsin-like proteases encoded by the SARS-CoV-2 genome, and play essential roles during the virus lifecycle. Therefore, they are recognized as a prospective therapeutic target in drug discovery against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Thus, this work aims to collectively present potential natural 3CLpro and PLpro inhibitors by in silico simulations and in vitro entry pseudotype-entry models. We screened luteolin-7-O-glucuronide (L7OG), cynarin (CY), folic acid (FA), and rosmarinic acid (RA) molecules against PLpro and 3CLpro through a luminogenic substrate assay. We only reported moderate inhibitory activity on the recombinant 3CLpro and PLpro by L7OG and FA. Afterward, the entry inhibitory activity of L7OG and FA was tested in cell lines transduced with the two different SARS-CoV-2 pseudotypes harboring alpha (α) and omicron (o) spike (S) protein. The results showed that both compounds have a consistent inhibitory activity on the entry for both variants. However, L7OG showed a greater degree of entry inhibition against α-SARS-CoV-2. Molecular modeling studies were used to determine the inhibitory mechanism of the candidate molecules by focusing on their interactions with residues recognized by the protease active site and receptor-binding domain (RBD) of spike SARS-CoV-2. This work allowed us to identify the binding sites of FA and L7OG within the RBD domain in the alpha and omicron variants, demonstrating how FA is active in both variants. We have confidence that future in vivo studies testing the safety and effectiveness of these natural compounds are warranted, given that they are effective against a variant of concerns.

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