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Ebselen, Disulfiram, Carmofur, PX-12, Tideglusib, and Shikonin Are Nonspecific Promiscuous SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease Inhibitors

Among the drug targets being investigated for SARS-CoV-2, the viral main protease (Mpro) is one of the most extensively studied. Mpro is a cysteine protease that hydrolyzes the viral polyprotein at more than 11 sites. It is highly conserved and has a unique substrate preference for glutamine in the P1 position. Therefore, Mpro inhibitors are expected to have broad-spectrum antiviral activity and a high selectivity index. Structurally diverse compounds have been reported as Mpro inhibitors. In this study, we investigated the mechanism of action of six previously reported Mpro inhibitors, ebselen, disulfiram, tideglusib, carmofur, shikonin, and PX-12, using a consortium of techniques including FRET-based enzymatic assay, thermal shift assay, native mass spectrometry, cellular antiviral assays, and molecular dynamics simulations. Collectively, the results showed that the inhibition of Mpro by these six compounds is nonspecific and that the inhibition is abolished or greatly reduced with the addition of reducing reagent 1,4-dithiothreitol (DTT). Without DTT, these six compounds inhibit not only Mpro but also a panel of viral cysteine proteases including SARS-CoV-2 papain-like protease and 2Apro and 3Cpro from enterovirus A71 (EV-A71) and EV-D68. However, none of the compounds inhibits the viral replication of EV-A71 or EV-D68, suggesting that the enzymatic inhibition potency IC50 values obtained in the absence of DTT cannot be used to faithfully predict their cellular antiviral activity. Overall, we provide compelling evidence suggesting that these six compounds are nonspecific SARS-CoV-2 Mpro inhibitors and urge the scientific community to be stringent with hit validation.

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