Small molecule therapeutic agents are needed to treat or prevent infections by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. To expedite the discovery of lead compounds for development, assays have been developed based on affinity selection-mass spectrometry (AS-MS), which enables the rapid screening of mixtures such as combinatorial libraries and extracts of botanicals or other sources of natural products. AS-MS assays have been used to find ligands to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein for inhibition of cell entry as well as to the 3-chymotrypsin-like cysteine protease (3CLpro) and the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase complex constituent Nsp9, which are targets for inhibition of viral replication. The AS-MS approach of magnetic microbead affinity selection screening has been used to discover high-affinity peptide ligands to the spike protein as well as the hemp cannabinoids cannabidiolic acid and cannabigerolic acid, which can prevent cell infection by SARS-CoV-2. Another AS-MS method, native mass spectrometry, has been used to discover that the flavonoids baicalein, scutellarein, and ganhuangenin, can inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 protease 3CLpro. Native mass spectrometry has also been used to find an ent-kaurane natural product, oridonin, that can bind to the viral protein Nsp9 and interfere with RNA replication. These natural lead compounds are under investigation for the development of therapeutic agents to prevent or treat SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; affinity selection-mass spectrometry; drug discovery; natural products.
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