SARS-CoV-2 virus mutations might increase its virulence, and thus the severity and duration of the ongoing pandemic. Global drug discovery campaigns have successfully developed several vaccines to reduce the number of infections by the virus. However, finding a small molecule pharmaceutical that is effective in inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 remains a challenge. Natural products are the origin of many currently used pharmaceuticals and, for this reason, a library of in-house fungal extracts were screened to assess their potential to inhibit the main viral protease Mpro in vitro. The extract of Penicillium citrinum, TDPEF34, showed potential inhibition and was further analysed to identify potential Mpro inhibitors. Following bio-guided isolation, a series of benzodiazepine alkaloids cyclopenins with good-to-moderate activity against SARS-CoV-2 Mpro were identified. The mode of enzyme inhibition of these compounds was predicted by docking and molecular dynamic simulation. Compounds 1 (isolated as two conformers of S-and R-isomers), 2, and 4 were found to have promising in vitro inhibitory activity towards Mpro, with an IC50 values range of 0.36–0.89 µM comparable to the positive control GC376. The in silico investigation revealed compounds to achieve stable binding with the enzyme active site through multiple H-bonding and hydrophobic interactions. Additionally, the isolated compounds showed very good drug-likeness and ADMET properties. Our findings could be utilized in further in vitro and in vivo investigations to produce anti-SARS-CoV-2 drug candidates. These findings also provide critical structural information that could be used in the future for designing potent Mpro inhibitors.
- Molecular dynamic simulations
- Penicillium citrinum