Broad-spectrum antiviral drugs are urgently needed to stop the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future ones. The novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is related to SARS-CoV and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which have caused the previous outbreaks. The papain-like protease (PLpro) is an attractive drug target due to its essential roles in the viral life cycle. As a cysteine protease, PLpro is rich in cysteines and histidines and their protonation/deprotonation modulates catalysis and conformational plasticity. Here we report the pKa calculations and assessment of the proton-coupled conformational dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 in comparison to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV PLpros using a newly developed GPU-accelerated implicit-solvent continuous constant pH molecular dynamics method with an asynchronous replica-exchange scheme. The calculated pKa’s support the catalytic roles of the Cys-His-Asp triad. We also found that several residues can switch protonation states at physiological pH, among which is C270/271 located on the flexible blocking loop 2 (BL2) of SARS-CoV-2/CoV PLpro. Simulations revealed that the BL2 conformational dynamics is coupled to the titration of C271/270, in agreement with the crystal structures of SARS-CoV-2 PLpro. Simulations also revealed that BL2 in MERS-CoV PLpro is very flexible, sampling both open and closed states despite the lack of an analogous cysteine. Our work provides a starting point for more detailed mechanistic studies to assist structure-based design of broad-spectrum inhibitors against CoV PLpros.
Collection : COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 preprints from medRxiv and bioRxiv