A conformational switch high-throughput screening assay and allosteric inhibition of the flavivirus NS2B-NS3 protease

Matthew Brecher, Zhong Li, Binbin Liu, Jing Zhang, Cheri A. Koetzner, Adham Alifarag, Susan A. Jones, Qishan Lin, Laura D. Kramer, Hongmin Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


The flavivirus genome encodes a single polyprotein precursor requiring multiple cleavages by host and viral proteases in order to produce the individual proteins that constitute an infectious virion. Previous studies have revealed that the NS2B cofactor of the viral NS2B-NS3 heterocomplex protease displays a conformational dynamic between active and inactive states. Here, we developed a conformational switch assay based on split luciferase complementation (SLC) to monitor the conformational change of NS2B and to characterize candidate allosteric inhibitors. Binding of an active-site inhibitor to the protease resulted in a conformational change of NS2B and led to significant SLC enhancement. Mutagenesis of key residues at an allosteric site abolished this induced conformational change and SLC enhancement. We also performed a virtual screen of NCI library compounds to identify allosteric inhibitors, followed by in vitro biochemical screening of the resultant candidates. Only three of these compounds, NSC135618, 260594, and 146771, significantly inhibited the protease of Dengue virus 2 (DENV2) in vitro, with IC50values of 1.8 μM, 11.4 μM, and 4.8 μM, respectively. Among the three compounds, only NSC135618 significantly suppressed the SLC enhancement triggered by binding of active-site inhibitor in a dose-dependent manner, indicating that it inhibits the conformational change of NS2B. Results from virus titer reduction assays revealed that NSC135618 is a broad spectrum flavivirus protease inhibitor, and can significantly reduce titers of DENV2, Zika virus (ZIKV), West Nile virus (WNV), and Yellow fever virus (YFV) on A549 cells in vivo, with EC50values in low micromolar range. In contrast, the cytotoxicity of NSC135618 is only moderate with CC50of 48.8 μM on A549 cells. Moreover, NSC135618 inhibited ZIKV in human placental and neural progenitor cells relevant to ZIKV pathogenesis. Results from binding, kinetics, Western blot, mass spectrometry and mutagenesis experiments unambiguously demonstrated an allosteric mechanism for inhibition of the viral protease by NSC135618.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1006411
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Virology


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