Furin Inhibitors Block SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Cleavage to Suppress Virus Production and Cytopathic Effects
Development of specific antiviral agents is an urgent unmet need for SARS-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. This study focuses on host proteases that proteolytically activate the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, critical for its fusion after binding to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), as antiviral targets. We first validate cleavage at a putative furin substrate motif at SARS-CoV-2 spikes by expressing it in VeroE6 cells and find prominent syncytium formation. Cleavage and the syncytium are abolished by treatment with the furin inhibitors decanoyl-RVKR-chloromethylketone (CMK) and naphthofluorescein, but not by the transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2) inhibitor camostat. CMK and naphthofluorescein show antiviral effects on SARS-CoV-2-infected cells by decreasing virus production and cytopathic effects. Further analysis reveals that, similar to camostat, CMK blocks virus entry, but it further suppresses cleavage of spikes and the syncytium. Naphthofluorescein acts primarily by suppressing viral RNA transcription. Therefore, furin inhibitors may be promising antiviral agents for prevention and treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
TMPRSS2 and furin are both essential for proteolytic activation of SARS-CoV-2 in human airway cells
The novel emerged SARS-CoV-2 has rapidly spread around the world causing acute infection of the respiratory tract (COVID-19) that can result in severe disease and lethality. For SARS-CoV-2 to enter cells, its surface glycoprotein spike (S) must be cleaved at two different sites by host cell proteases, which therefore represent potential drug targets. In the present study, we show that S can be cleaved by the proprotein convertase furin at the S1/S2 site and the transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2) at the S2′ site. We demonstrate that TMPRSS2 is essential for activation of SARS-CoV-2 S in Calu-3 human airway epithelial cells through antisense-mediated knockdown of TMPRSS2 expression. Furthermore, SARS-CoV-2 replication was also strongly inhibited by the synthetic furin inhibitor MI-1851 in human airway cells. In contrast, inhibition of endosomal cathepsins by E64d did not affect virus replication. Combining various TMPRSS2 inhibitors with furin inhibitor MI-1851 produced more potent antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 than an equimolar amount of any single serine protease inhibitor. Therefore, this approach has considerable therapeutic potential for treatment of COVID-19.
A newly described coronavirus named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is the causative agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), has infected over 2.3 million people, led to the death of more than 160,000 individuals and caused worldwide social and economic disruption1,2. There are no antiviral drugs with proven clinical efficacy for the treatment of COVID-19, nor are there any vaccines that prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2, and efforts to develop drugs and vaccines are hampered by the limited knowledge of the molecular details of how SARS-CoV-2 infects cells. Here we cloned, tagged and expressed 26 of the 29 SARS-CoV-2 proteins in human cells and identified the human proteins that physically associated with each of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins using affinity-purification mass spectrometry, identifying 332 high-confidence protein–protein interactions between SARS-CoV-2 and human proteins. Among these, we identify 66 druggable human proteins or host factors targeted by 69 compounds (of which, 29 drugs are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, 12 are in clinical trials and 28 are preclinical compounds). We screened a subset of these in multiple viral assays and found two sets of pharmacological agents that displayed antiviral activity: inhibitors of mRNA translation and predicted regulators of the sigma-1 and sigma-2 receptors. Further studies of these host-factor-targeting agents, including their combination with drugs that directly target viral enzymes, could lead to a therapeutic regimen to treat COVID-19.
The Landscape of Human Cancer Proteins Targeted by SARS-CoV-2
The mapping of SARS-CoV-2 human protein–protein interactions by Gordon and colleagues revealed druggable targets that are hijacked by the virus. Here, we highlight several oncogenic pathways identified at the host–virus interface of SARS-CoV-2 to enable cancer biologists to apply their knowledge for rapid drug repurposing to treat COVID-19, and help inform the response to potential long-term complications of the disease.