Antiviral drugs for managing infections with human coronaviruses are not yet approved, posing a serious challenge to current global efforts aimed at containing the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (CoV-2). Remdesivir (RDV) is an investigational compound with a broad spectrum of antiviral activities against RNA viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome-CoV and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV). RDV is a nucleotide analog inhibitor of RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRps). Here, we co-expressed the MERS-CoV nonstructural proteins nsp5, nsp7, nsp8, and nsp12 (RdRp) in insect cells as a part a polyprotein to study the mechanism of inhibition of MERS-CoV RdRp by RDV. We initially demonstrated that nsp8 and nsp12 form an active complex. The triphosphate form of the inhibitor (RDV-TP) competes with its natural counterpart ATP. Of note, the selectivity value for RDV-TP obtained here with a steady-state approach suggests that it is more efficiently incorporated than ATP and two other nucleotide analogs. Once incorporated at position i, the inhibitor caused RNA synthesis arrest at position i + 3. Hence, the likely mechanism of action is delayed RNA chain termination. The additional three nucleotides may protect the inhibitor from excision by the viral 3'-5' exonuclease activity. Together, these results help to explain the high potency of RDV against RNA viruses in cell-based assays.
Keywords: Ebola virus (EBOV); Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS–CoV); RNA chain termination; RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp); SARS–CoV-2; antiviral drug; coronavirus; drug development; enzyme inhibitor; nucleoside/nucleotide analog; plus-stranded RNA virus; positive-sense RNA virus; remdesivir; viral polymerase; viral replicase.
© 2020 Gordon et al.