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Computational analysis of dynamic allostery and control in the SARS-CoV-2 main protease

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DateSubmitted - 15 Jul 2020
DateAccepted/In press - 7 Dec 2020
DatePublished (current) - 6 Jan 2021
Issue number174
Original languageEnglish


The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has no publicly available vaccine or antiviral drugs at the time of writing. An attractive coronavirus drug target is the main protease (Mpro, also known as 3CLpro) because of its vital role in the viral cycle. A significant body of work has been focused on finding inhibitors which bind and block the active site of the main protease, but little has been done to address potential non-competitive inhibition, targeting regions other than the active site, partly because the fundamental biophysics of such allosteric control is still poorly understood. In this work, we construct an elastic network model (ENM) of the SARS-CoV-2 Mpro homodimer protein and analyse its dynamics and thermodynamics. We found a rich and heterogeneous dynamical structure, including allosterically correlated motions between the homodimeric protease's active sites. Exhaustive 1-point and 2-point mutation scans of the ENM and their effect on fluctuation free energies confirm previously experimentally identified bioactive residues, but also suggest several new candidate regions that are distant from the active site, yet control the protease function. Our results suggest new dynamically driven control regions as possible candidates for non-competitive inhibiting binding sites in the protease, which may assist the development of current fragment-based binding screens. The results also provide new insights into the active biophysical research field of protein fluctuation allostery and its underpinning dynamical structure.

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© 2021 The Authors.


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