STD-NMR experiments identify a structural motif with novel second-site activity against West Nile virus NS2B-NS3 protease

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West Nile virus (WNV) belongs to the genus Flavivirus of the family Flaviviridae. This mosquito-borne virus that is highly pathogenic to humans has been evolving into a global threat during the past two decades. Despite many efforts, neither antiviral drugs nor vaccines are available. The viral protease NS2B-NS3pro is essential for viral replication, and therefore it is considered a prime drug target. However, success in the development of specific NS2B-NS3pro inhibitors had been moderate so far. In the search for new structural motifs with binding affinity for NS2B-NS3pro, we have screened a fragment library, the Maybridge Ro5 library, employing saturation transfer difference (STD) NMR experiments as readout. About 30% of 429 fragments showed binding to NS2B-NS3pro. Subsequent STD-NMR competition experiments using the known active site fragment A as reporter ligand yielded 14 competitively binding fragments, and 22 fragments not competing with A. In a fluorophore-based protease assay, all of these fragments showed inhibition in the micromolar range. Interestingly, 10 of these 22 fragments showed a notable increase of STD intensities in the presence of compound A suggesting cooperative binding. The most promising non-competitive inhibitors 1 and 2 (IC50 ˜ 500 μM) share a structural motif that may guide the development of novel second-site (potentially allosteric) inhibitors of NS2B-NS3pro. To identify the matching protein binding site, chemical shift perturbation studies employing 1H,15N-TROSY-HSQC experiments with uniformly 2H,15N-labeled protease were performed in the presence of 1, and in the concomitant absence or presence of A. The data suggest that 1 interacts with Met 52* of NS2B, identifying a secondary site adjacent to the binding site of A. Therefore, our study paves the way for the synthesis of novel bidentate NS2B-NS3pro inhibitors.HighlightsSTD-NMR screening of a fragment library for NS2bNS3 protease inhibitors delivered hits.Second site binders were identified employing competition STD NMR experiments and fluorogenic protease assays.Binding sites for second site binders are suggested based on chemical shift perturbations and docking.

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