Sunday, October 3, 2021

Covalent Inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 RBD-ACE2 Interaction by Aptamers with Multiple Sulfur(VI) Fluoride Exchange Modifications

Qin Z, Zhu Y, Xiang Y. 

ChemRxiv. 2021

The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein uses its receptor-binding domain (RBD) to interact with the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor on host cells, establishing the first step of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Inhibitors of RBD-ACE2 interaction, therefore, have shown great promise in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection. Currently known RBD-ACE2 inhibitors are all based on reversible binding and must compete with ACE2 or RBD at the equilibrium. On the other hand, covalent inhibitors, such as those based on sulfur(VI) fluoride exchange (SuFEx) chemistry, can form irreversible chemical bonds with target proteins and offer advantages including higher potency and longer duration of inhibition. Here, we report covalent aptamer inhibitors that can block RBD-ACE2 by forming covalent bonds with RBD. These covalent aptamer inhibitors were developed by equipping known RBD aptamers with multiple SuFEx (mSuFEx) modifications. The mSuFEx-aptamer 6C3-7SF underwent strong covalent bonding with RBD and some of its variants at fast rates (t1/2 = 20 ~ 29 min−1) and induced more efficient RBD-ACE2 inhibition (IC50 = 26 ~ 37 nM) than the original aptamer (IC50 > 200 nM) according to an in vitro enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The covalent bond formation was highly selective to RBD over human serum albumin (HSA) and ACE2, and could occur efficiently in diluted human serum. Peptide fragmentation analyses of the RBD-6C3-7SF adducts revealed multiple sites of covalent bonding on RBD, including K378, R408, Y422, Y424, Y453, and K458. The surprising R408 suggests that context-specific non-N-terminal arginine could be a new type of targetable residue by SuFEx-based covalent inhibitors, which were never reported as reactive with any non-N-terminal arginine in target proteins. In addition, RBD R408 is responsible for binding with ACE2 N90 glycan, and this arginine is conserved in SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern or interest, suggesting that R408 could be the potential site of interest for developing SuFEx-based covalent inhibitors against threatening SARS-CoV-2 variants. Although the compatibility of mSuFEx-based covalent aptamers in cellular and in vivo systems should be further investigated, our study demonstrated the promise of mSuFEx chemistry in constructing potent covalent aptamers to inhibit important protein-protein interactions (PPIs).

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