Vulnerabilities of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus to Proteotoxicity-Opportunity for Repurposed Chemotherapy of COVID-19 Infection

Front Pharmacol. 2020 Oct 9;11:585408. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.585408. eCollection 2020.


The global pandemic of COVID-19 disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, has produced an urgent requirement and search for improved treatments while effective vaccines are developed. A strategy for improved drug therapy is to increase levels of endogenous reactive metabolites for selective toxicity to SARS-CoV-2 by preferential damage to the viral proteome. Key reactive metabolites producing major quantitative damage to the proteome in physiological systems are: reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the reactive glycating agent methylglyoxal (MG); cysteine residues and arginine residues are their most susceptible targets, respectively. From sequenced-based prediction of the SARS-CoV-2 proteome, we found 0.8-fold enrichment or depletion of cysteine residues in functional domains of the viral proteome; whereas there was a 4.6-fold enrichment of arginine residues, suggesting SARS-CoV-2 is resistant to oxidative agents and sensitive to MG. For arginine residues of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus predicted to be in functional domains, we examined which are activated toward modification by MG - residues with predicted or expected low pKa by neighboring group in interactions. We found 25 such arginine residues, including 2 in the spike protein and 10 in the nucleoprotein. These sites were partially conserved in related coronaviridae: SARS-CoV and MERS. Finally, we identified drugs which increase cellular MG concentration to virucidal levels: antitumor drugs with historical antiviral activity, doxorubicin and paclitaxel. Our findings provide evidence of potential vulnerability of SARS-CoV-2 to inactivation by MG and a scientific rationale for repurposing of doxorubicin and paclitaxel for treatment of COVID-19 disease, providing efficacy and adequate therapeutic index may be established.

Keywords: COVID-19; bioinformatics; coronavirus; doxorubicin; glyoxalase; methylglyoxal; paclitaxel; proteomics.