Structure-based virtual screening workflow to identify antivirals targeting HIV-1 capsid

J Comput Aided Mol Des. 2022 Mar;36(3):193-203. doi: 10.1007/s10822-022-00446-5. Epub 2022 Mar 9.


We have identified novel HIV-1 capsid inhibitors targeting the PF74 binding site. Acting as the building block of the HIV-1 capsid core, the HIV-1 capsid protein plays an important role in the viral life cycle and is an attractive target for antiviral development. A structure-based virtual screening workflow for hit identification was employed, which includes docking 1.6 million commercially-available drug-like compounds from the ZINC database to the capsid dimer, followed by applying two absolute binding free energy (ABFE) filters on the 500 top-ranked molecules from docking. The first employs the Binding Energy Distribution Analysis Method (BEDAM) in implicit solvent. The top-ranked compounds are then refined using the Double Decoupling method in explicit solvent. Both docking and BEDAM refinement were carried out on the IBM World Community Grid as part of the FightAIDS@Home project. Using this virtual screening workflow, we identified 24 molecules with calculated binding free energies between - 6 and - 12 kcal/mol. We performed thermal shift assays on these molecules to examine their potential effects on the stability of HIV-1 capsid hexamer and found that two compounds, ZINC520357473 and ZINC4119064 increased the melting point of the latter by 14.8 °C and 33 °C, respectively. These results support the conclusion that the two ZINC compounds are primary hits targeting the capsid dimer interface. Our simulations also suggest that the two hit molecules may bind at the capsid dimer interface by occupying a new sub-pocket that has not been exploited by existing CA inhibitors. The possible causes for why other top-scored compounds suggested by ABFE filters failed to show measurable activity are discussed.

Keywords: Binding free energy calculation; Docking; HIV-1 capsid inhibitors; Structure-based virtual screening; Thermal shift; Virtual screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents* / chemistry
  • Anti-HIV Agents* / pharmacology
  • Capsid / metabolism
  • Capsid Proteins / metabolism
  • Capsid Proteins / pharmacology
  • HIV-1*
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Protein Binding
  • Solvents
  • Workflow


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Capsid Proteins
  • Solvents