Validation and Invalidation of SARS-CoV-2 Papain-like Protease Inhibitors

Chunlong Ma, Jun Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


SARS-CoV-2 encodes two viral cysteine proteases, the main protease (Mpro) and the papain-like protease (PLpro), both of which are validated antiviral drug targets. PLpro is involved in the cleavage of viral polyproteins as well as immune modulation by removing ubiquitin and interferon-stimulated gene product 15 (ISG15) from host proteins. Therefore, targeting PLpro might be a two-pronged approach. Several compounds including YM155, cryptotanshinone, tanshinone I, dihydrotanshinone I, tanshinone IIA, SJB2-043, 6-thioguanine, and 6-mercaptopurine were recently identified as SARS-CoV-2 PLpro inhibitors through high-throughput screenings. In this study, we aim to validate/invalidate the reported PLpro inhibitors using a combination of PLpro target-specific assays including enzymatic FRET assay, thermal shift binding assay (TSA), and cell-based FlipGFP assay. Collectively, our results showed that all compounds tested either did not show binding or led to denaturation of PLpro in the TSA binding assay, which might explain their weak enzymatic inhibition in the FRET assay. In addition, none of the compounds showed cellular PLpro inhibition as revealed by the FlipGFP assay. Therefore, more efforts are needed to search for potent and specific SARS-CoV-2 PLpro inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-109
Number of pages8
JournalACS Pharmacology and Translational Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 11 2022


  • FlipGFP
  • GRL0617
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • antiviral
  • papain-like protease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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