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Structure-Based Stabilization of Non-native Protein-protein Interactions of Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins in Antiviral Drug Design
S.-M. Lin, S.-C. Lin, J.-N. Hsu, C.-K. Chang, C.-M. Chien, Y.-S. Wang, H.-Y. Wu, U.-S. Jeng, K. Kehn-Hall, and M.-H. Hou*
Structure-based stabilization of protein-protein interactions (PPIs) is a promising strategy for drug discovery. However, this approach has mainly focused on the stabilization of native PPIs, and non-native PPIs have received little consideration. Here, we identified a non-native interaction interface on the three-dimensional dimeric structure of the N-terminal domain of the MERS-CoV nucleocapsid protein (MERS-CoV N-NTD). The interface formed a conserved hydrophobic cavity suitable for targeted drug screening. By considering the hydrophobic complementarity during the virtual screening step, we identified 5-benzyloxygramine as a new N protein PPI orthosteric stabilizer that exhibits both antiviral and N-NTD protein-stabilizing activities. X-ray crystallography and small-angle X-ray scattering showed that 5-benzyloxygramine stabilizes the N-NTD dimers through simultaneous hydrophobic interactions with both partners, resulting in abnormal N protein oligomerization that was further confirmed in the cell. This unique approach based on the identification and stabilization of non-native PPIs of N protein could be applied toward drug discovery against CoV diseases.