Computational assessment of saikosaponins as adjuvant treatment for COVID-19: molecular docking, dynamics, and network pharmacology analysis

Mol Divers. 2021 Aug;25(3):1889-1904. doi: 10.1007/s11030-021-10183-w. Epub 2021 Jan 25.


Saikosaponins are major biologically active triterpenoids, usually as glucosides, isolated from Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) such as Bupleurum spp., Heteromorpha spp., and Scrophularia scorodonia with their antiviral and immunomodulatory potential. This investigation presents molecular docking, molecular dynamics simulation, and free energy calculation studies of saikosaponins as adjuvant therapy in the treatment for COVID19. Molecular docking studies for 23 saikosaponins on the crystal structures of the extracellular domains of human lnterleukin-6 receptor (IL6), human Janus Kinase-3 (JAK3), and dehydrogenase domain of Cylindrospermum stagnale NADPH-oxidase 5 (NOX5) were performed, and selected protein-ligand complexes were subjected to 100 ns molecular dynamics simulations. The molecular dynamics trajectories were subjected to free energy calculation by the MM-GBSA method. Molecular docking and molecular dynamics simulation studies revealed that IL6 in complex with Saikosaponin_U and Saikosaponin_V, JAK3 in complex with Saikosaponin_B4 and Saikosaponin_I, and NOX5 in complex with Saikosaponin_BK1 and Saikosaponin_C have good docking and molecular dynamics profiles. However, the Janus Kinase-3 is the best interacting partner for the saikosaponin compounds. The network pharmacology analysis suggests saikosaponins interact with the proteins CAT Gene CAT (Catalase) and Checkpoint kinase 1 (CHEK1); both of these enzymes play a major role in cell homeostasis and DNA damage during infection, suggesting a possible improvement in immune response toward COVID-19.

Keywords: In silico analysis; Interleukin-6; Janus Kinase-3; NADPH-Oxidase-5; SARS-CoV-2; Saikosaponins.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Docking Simulation*
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation*
  • Oleanolic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Oleanolic Acid / metabolism
  • Oleanolic Acid / pharmacology
  • Oleanolic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Protein Domains
  • Saponins / metabolism
  • Saponins / pharmacology*
  • Saponins / therapeutic use


  • Saponins
  • Oleanolic Acid
  • saikosaponin D