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Computational optimization of the SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding-motif affinity for human ACE2

Savvas Polydorides, Georgios Archontis
Published: 1 July 2021

Abstract: The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, and the closely related SARS-CoV coronavirus enter cells by binding at the human angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (hACE2). The stronger hACE2 affinity of SARS-CoV-2 has been connected with its higher infectivity. In this work, we study hACE2 complexes with the receptor binding domains (RBDs) of the human SARS-CoV-2 and human SARS-CoV viruses, using all-atom molecular dynamics (MD) simulations and Computational Protein Design (CPD) with a physics-based energy function. The MD simulations identify charge-modifying substitutions between the CoV-2 and CoV RBDs, which either increase or decrease the hACE2 affinity of the SARS-CoV-2 RBD. The combined effect of these mutations is small, and the relative affinity is mainly determined by substitutions at residues in contact with hACE2. Many of these findings are in line and interpret recent experiments. Our CPD calculations redesign positions 455, 493, 494 and 501 of the SARS-CoV-2 RBM, which contact hACE2 in the complex and are important for ACE2 recognition. Sampling is enhanced by an adaptive importance sampling Monte Carlo method. Sequences with increased affinity replace CoV-2 glutamine by a negative residue at position 493, serine by nonpolar, aromatic or a threonine at position 494, and asparagine by valine or threonine at position 501. Substitutions at positions 455 and 501 have a smaller effect on affinity. Substitutions suggested by our design are seen in viral sequences encountered in other species, including bat and pangolin. Our results might be used to identify potential virus strains with higher human infectivity and assist in the design of peptide-based or peptidomimetic compounds with the potential to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 binding at hACE2.
Keywords: SARS CoV / optimization / affinity / RBDs / hACE2 complexes / Protein / function

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