Identification and Characterization of a Small-Molecule Rabies Virus Entry Inhibitor

J Virol. 2020 Jun 16;94(13):e00321-20. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00321-20. Print 2020 Jun 16.


Rabies virus (RABV) causes a severe and fatal neurological disease, but morbidity is vaccine preventable and treatable prior to the onset of clinical symptoms. However, immunoglobulin (IgG)-based rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) is expensive, restricting access to life-saving treatment, especially for patients in low-income countries where the clinical need is greatest, and does not confer cross-protection against newly emerging phylogroup II lyssaviruses. Toward identifying a cost-effective replacement for the IgG component of rabies PEP, we developed and implemented a high-throughput screening protocol utilizing a single-cycle RABV reporter strain. A large-scale screen and subsequent direct and orthogonal counterscreens identified a first-in-class direct-acting RABV inhibitor, GRP-60367, with a specificity index (SI) of >100,000. Mechanistic characterization through time-of-addition studies, transient cell-to-cell fusion assays, and chimeric vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) recombinants expressing the RABV glycoprotein (G) demonstrated that GRP-60367 inhibits entry of a subset of RABV strains. Resistance profiling of the chemotype revealed hot spots in conserved hydrophobic positions of the RABV G protein fusion loop that were confirmed in transient cell-to-cell fusion assays. Transfer of RABV G genes with signature resistance mutations into a recombinant VSV backbone resulted in the recovery of replication-competent virions with low susceptibility to the inhibitor. This work outlines a tangible strategy for mechanistic characterization and resistance profiling of RABV drug candidates and identified a novel, well-behaved molecular probe chemotype that specifically targets the RABV G protein and prevents G-mediated viral entry.IMPORTANCE Rabies PEP depends on anti-RABV IgG, which is expensive and in limited supply in geographical areas with the highest disease burden. Replacing the IgG component with a cost-effective and shelf-stable small-molecule antiviral could address this unmet clinical need by expanding access to life-saving medication. This study has established a robust protocol for high-throughput anti-RABV drug screens and identified a chemically well-behaved, first-in-class hit with nanomolar anti-RABV potency that blocks RABV G protein-mediated viral entry. Resistance mapping revealed a druggable site formed by the G protein fusion loops that has not previously emerged as a target for neutralizing antibodies. Discovery of this RABV entry inhibitor establishes a new molecular probe to advance further mechanistic and structural characterization of RABV G that may aid in the design of a next-generation clinical candidate against RABV.

Keywords: DNA-binding proteins; antiviral; drug discovery; entry inhibitor; lyssavirus; rabies; rhabdovirus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / therapeutic use*
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Cell Line
  • Cross Protection
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Peptide Library
  • Rabies / prevention & control
  • Rabies Vaccines / immunology
  • Rabies virus / immunology*
  • Rabies virus / metabolism
  • Rabies virus / pathogenicity
  • Vesicular stomatitis Indiana virus / genetics
  • Vesicular stomatitis Indiana virus / immunology
  • Vesiculovirus / genetics
  • Vesiculovirus / immunology
  • Viral Fusion Proteins / pharmacology


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Antiviral Agents
  • Peptide Library
  • Rabies Vaccines
  • Viral Fusion Proteins