Background: Viruses of the flaviviridae family are responsible for some of the major infectious viral diseases around the world and there is an urgent need for drug development for these diseases. Most of the virtual screening methods in flaviviral drug discovery suffer from a low hit rate, strain-specific efficacy differences, and susceptibility to resistance. It is because they often fail to capture the key pharmacological features of the target active site critical for protein function inhibition. So in our current work, for the flaviviral NS3 protease, we summarized the pharmacophore features at the protease active site as anchors (subsite-moiety interactions). Results: For each of the four flaviviral NS3 proteases (i.e., HCV, DENV, WNV, and JEV), the anchors were obtained and summarized into 'Pharmacophore anchor (PA) models'. To capture the conserved pharmacophore anchors across these proteases, were merged the four PA models. We identified five consensus core anchors (CEH1, CH3, CH7, CV1, CV3) in all PA models, represented as the "Core pharmacophore anchor (CPA) model" and also identified specific anchors unique to the PA models. Our PA/CPA models complied with 89 known NS3 protease inhibitors. Furthermore, we proposed an integrated anchor-based screening method using the anchors from our models for discovering inhibitors. This method was applied on the DENV NS3 protease to screen FDA drugs discovering boceprevir, telaprevir and asunaprevir as promising anti-DENV candidates. Experimental testing against DV2-NGC virus by in-vitro plaque assays showed that asunaprevir and telaprevir inhibited viral replication with EC50 values of 10.4 μM & 24.5 μM respectively. The structure-anchor-activity relationships (SAAR) showed that our PA/CPA model anchors explained the observed in-vitro activities of the candidates. Also, we observed that the CEH1 anchor engagement was critical for the activities of telaprevir and asunaprevir while the extent of inhibitor anchor occupation guided their efficacies. Conclusion: These results validate our NS3 protease PA/CPA models, anchors and the integrated anchor-based screening method to be useful in inhibitor discovery and lead optimization, thus accelerating flaviviral drug discovery.
- Core and specific anchors
- DENV NS3 protease
- Flaviviral NS3 proteases
- Integrated anchor-based virtual screening
- Pharmacophore anchor models