Patch-clamp studies and cell viability assays suggest a distinct site for viroporin inhibitors on the E protein of SARS-CoV-2.

Publication date: Jul 08, 2023

SARS-CoV-2 has caused a worldwide pandemic since December 2019 and the search for pharmaceutical targets against COVID-19 remains an important challenge. Here, we studied the envelope protein E of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, a highly conserved 75-76 amino acid viroporin that is crucial for virus assembly and release. E protein channels were recombinantly expressed in HEK293 cells, a membrane-directing signal peptide ensured transfer to the plasma membrane. Viroporin channel activity of both E proteins was investigated using patch-clamp electrophysiology in combination with a cell viability assay. We verified inhibition by classical viroporin inhibitors amantadine, rimantadine and 5-(N,N-hexamethylene)-amiloride, and tested four ivermectin derivatives. Classical inhibitors showed potent activity in patch-clamp recordings and viability assays. In contrast, ivermectin and milbemycin inhibited the E channel in patch-clamp recordings but displayed only moderate activity on the E protein in the cell viability assay, which is also sensitive to general cytotoxic activity of the tested compounds. Nemadectin and ivermectin aglycon were inactive. All ivermectin derivatives were cytotoxic at concentrations > 5 uM, i. e. below the level required for E protein inhibition. This study demonstrates direct inhibition of the SARS-CoV-2 E protein by classical viroporin inhibitors. Ivermectin and milbemycin inhibit the E protein channel but their cytotoxicity argues against clinical application.

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Concepts Keywords
December Cell viability assay
Electrophysiology E protein
Pandemic Ivermectin derivatives
Pharmaceutical Patch-clamp electrophysiology
Recombinantly SARS-CoV-2
Viroporin inhibitors

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