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Exploring the fatty acid binding pocket in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein - confirmed and potential ligands

Queirós-Reis, Luís, Mesquita, João R., Brancale, Andrea and Bassetto, Marcella 2023. Exploring the fatty acid binding pocket in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein - confirmed and potential ligands. Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling 63 (23) , 7282–7298. 10.1021/acs.jcim.3c00803
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Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a respiratory virus responsible for coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) and the still ongoing and unprecedented global pandemic. The key viral protein for cell infection is the spike glycoprotein, a surface-exposed fusion protein that both recognizes and mediates entry into host cells. Within the spike glycoprotein, a fatty acid binding pocket (FABP) was confirmed, with the crystallization of linoleic acid (LA) occupying a well-defined site. Importantly, when the pocket is occupied by a fatty acid, an inactive conformation is stabilized, and cell recognition is hindered. In this review, we discuss ligands reported so far for this site, correlating their activity predicted through in silico studies with antispike experimental activity, assessed by either binding assays or cell-infection assays. LA was the first confirmed ligand, cocrystallized in a cryo-EM structure of the spike protein, resulting in increased stability of the inactive conformation of the spike protein. The next identified ligand, lifitegrast, was also experimentally confirmed as a ligand with antiviral activity, suggesting the potential for diverse chemical scaffolds to bind this site. Finally, SPC-14 was also confirmed as a ligand, although no inhibition assays were performed. In this review, we identified 20 studies describing small-molecule compounds predicted to bind the pocket in in silico studies and with confirmed binding or in vitro activity, either inhibitory activity against the spike-ACE2 interaction or antiviral activity in cell-based assays. When considering all ligands confirmed with in vitro assays, a good overall occupation of the pocket should be complemented with the ability to make direct interactions, both hydrophilic and hydrophobic, with key amino acid residues defining the pocket surface. Among the active compounds, long flexible carbon chains are recurrent, with retinoids capable of binding the FABP, although bulkier systems are also capable of affecting viral fitness. Compounds able to bind this site with high affinity have the potential to stabilize the inactive conformation of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and therefore reduce the virus’s ability to infect new cells. Since this pocket is conserved in highly pathogenic human coronaviruses, including MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, this effect could be exploited for the development of new antiviral agents, with broad-spectrum anticoronavirus activity.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Pharmacy
Publisher: American Chemical Society
ISSN: 1549-9596
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 16 February 2024
Date of Acceptance: 30 October 2023
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2024 23:55

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