Potent influenza A virus entry inhibitors targeting a conserved region of hemagglutinin

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Influenza A viruses (IAVs) induce acute respiratory disease and cause significant morbidity and mortality throughout the world. With the emergence of drug-resistant viral strains, new and effective anti-IAV drugs with different modes of action are urgently needed. In this study, by conjugating cholesterol to the N-terminus of the short peptide KKWK, a lipopeptide named S-KKWK was created. The anti-IAV test indicated that S-KKWK and its derivatives displayed potent antiviral activities against a broad variety of influenza A viral strains including oseltamivir-resistant strains and clinically relevant isolates with IC50 values ranging from 0.7 to 3.0 μM. An extensive mechanistic study showed that these peptides functioned as viral “entry blockers” by inhibiting the conformational rearrangements of HA2 subunit, thereby interrupting the fusion of virus-host cell membranes. Significantly, a computer-aided docking simulation and protein sequence alignment identified conserved residues in the stem region of HA2 as the possible binding site of S-KKWK, which may be employed as a potential drug target for designing anti-IAVs with a broad-spectrum of activity. By targeting this region, a potent anti-IAV agent was subsequently created. In addition, the anti-IAV activity of S-KKWK was assessed by experiments with influenza A virus-infected mice, in which S-KKWK reduced the mortality of infected animals and extended survival time significantly. Overall, in addition to providing a strategy for designing broad-spectrum anti-IAV agents, these results indicate that S-KKWK and its derivatives are prospective candidates for potent antivirals.

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