Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is an emerging infectious disease caused by a novel human coronavirus (CoV). During the 2003 epidemic, the disease rapidly spread from its origin in southern China to other countries and affected almost 8000 patients, which resulted in about 800 fatalities. A chymotrypsin-like cysteine protease named 3C-like protease (3CLpro) is essential for the life cycle of the SARS-CoV. This main protease is responsible for maturation of functional proteins and represents a key anti-viral target. HPLC and fluorescence-based assays have been used to characterize the protease and to determine the potency of the inhibitors. The fluorogenic method monitoring the increase of fluorescence from the cleavage of a peptide substrate containing an Edans-Dabcyl fluorescence quenching pair at two ends has enabled the use of high throughput screening to speed up the drug discovery process. Several groups of inhibitors have been identified through high throughput screening and rational drug design approaches. Thus, α,β- unsaturated peptidomimetics, anilides, metal-conjugated compounds, boronic acids, quinolinecarboxylate derivatives, thiophenecarboxylates, phthalhydrazide-substituted ketoglutamine analogues, isatin and natural products have been identified as potent inhibitors of the SARS-CoV main protease. The different classes of inhibitors reported in these studies are summarized in this review. Some of these inhibitors could be developed into potential drug candidates, which may provide a solution to combat possible reoccurrence of the SARS and other life-threatening viruses with 3CL proteases.
Keywords: SARS coronavirus, cysteine protease, fluorescence assay, high throughput screening, rational drug design, inhibitor
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