Blue Biotechnology: Computational Screening of Sarcophyton Cembranoid Diterpenes for SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease Inhibition


The coronavirus pandemic has affected more than 150 million people, while over 3.25 million people have died from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). As there are no established therapies for COVID-19 treatment, drugs that inhibit viral replication are a promising target; specifically, the main protease (Mpro) that process CoV-encoded polyproteins serves as an Achilles heel for assembly of replication-transcription machinery as well as down-stream viral replication. In the search for potential antiviral drugs that target Mpro, a series of cembranoid diterpenes from the biologically active soft-coral genus Sarcophyton have been examined as SARS-CoV-2 Mpro inhibitors. Over 360 metabolites from the genus were screened using molecular docking calculations. Promising diterpenes were further characterized by molecular dynamics (MD) simulations based on molecular mechanics-generalized Born surface area (MM-GBSA) binding energy calculations. According to in silico calculations, five cembranoid diterpenes manifested adequate binding affinities as Mpro inhibitors with ΔGbinding < −33.0 kcal/mol. Binding energy and structural analyses of the most potent Sarcophyton inhibitor, bislatumlide A (340), was compared to darunavir, an HIV protease inhibitor that has been recently subjected to clinical-trial as an anti-COVID-19 drug. In silico analysis indicates that 340 has a higher binding affinity against Mpro than darunavir with ΔGbinding values of −43.8 and −34.8 kcal/mol, respectively throughout 100 ns MD simulations. Drug-likeness calculations revealed robust bioavailability and protein-protein interactions were identified for 340; biochemical signaling genes included ACE, MAPK14 and ESR1 as identified based on a STRING database. Pathway enrichment analysis combined with reactome mining revealed that 340 has the capability to re-modulate the p38 MAPK pathway hijacked by SARS-CoV-2 and antagonize injurious effects. These findings justify further in vivo and in vitro testing of 340 as an antiviral agent against SARS-CoV-2.


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COVID-19, Genus Sarcophyton, Cembranoid Diterpenes Metabolites, SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease, Molecular Docking, Molecular Dynamics, Reactome


Ibrahim MAA, Abdelrahman AHM, Atia MAM, Mohamed TA, Moustafa MF, Hakami AR, Khalifa SAM, Alhumaydhi FA, Alrumaihi F, Abidi SH, Allemailem KS, Efferth T, Soliman ME, Paré PW, El-Seedi HR, Hegazy M-EF. Blue Biotechnology: Computational Screening of Sarcophyton Cembranoid Diterpenes for SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease Inhibition. Marine Drugs. 2021; 19(7):391.