Molecular modeling study on the resistance mechanism of HCV NS3/4A serine protease mutants R155K, A156V and D168A to TMC435

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Abstract

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) NS3/4A protease represents an attractive drug target for antiviral therapy. However, drug resistance often occurs, making many protease inhibitors ineffective and allowing viral replication to occur. Herein, based on the recently determined structure of NS3/4A–TMC435 complex, atomic-level models of the key residue mutated (R155K, A156V and D168A) NS3/4A–TMC435 complexes were constructed. Subsequently, by using molecular dynamics simulations, binding free energy calculation and substrate envelope analysis, the structural and energetic changes responsible for drug resistance were investigated. The values of the calculated binding free energy follow consistently the order of the experimental activities. More importantly, the computational results demonstrate that R155K and D168A mutations break the intermolecular salt bridges network at the extended S2 subsite and affect the TMC435 binding, while A156V mutation leads to a significant steric clash with TMC435 and further disrupts the two canonical substrate-like intermolecular hydrogen bond interactions (TMC435(N1–H46)…Arg155(O) and Ala157(N–H)…TMC435(O2)). In addition, by structural analysis, all the three key residue mutations occur outside the substrate envelope and selectively weaken TMC435's binding affinity without effect on its natural substrate peptide (4B5A). These findings could provide some insights into the resistance mechanism of NS3/4A protease mutants to TMC435 and would be critical for the development of novel inhibitors that are less susceptible to drug resistance.

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