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The SARS-CoV-2 papain-like protease (PLpro) is an antiviral drug target that catalyzes the hydrolysis of the viral polyproteins pp1a/1ab, so releasing the non-structural proteins (nsps) 1-3 that are essential for the coronavirus lifecycle. The LXGG↓X motif in pp1a/1ab is crucial for recognition and cleavage by PLpro. We describe molecular dynamics, docking, and quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) calculations to investigate how oligopeptide substrates derived from the viral polyprotein bind to PLpro. The results reveal how the substrate sequence affects the efficiency of PLpro-catalyzed hydrolysis. In particular, a proline at the P2′ position promotes catalysis, as validated by residue substitutions and mass spectrometry-based analyses. Analysis of PLpro catalyzed hydrolysis of LXGG motif-containing oligopeptides derived from human proteins suggests that factors beyond the LXGG motif and the presence of a proline residue at P2′ contribute to catalytic efficiency, possibly reflecting the promiscuity of PLpro. The results will help in identifying PLpro substrates and guiding inhibitor design.

Original publication




Journal article


RSC Chemical Biology

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