One of the most promising approaches to anti-hepatitis C virus drug discovery is the development of inhibitors of the virally encoded protease NS3. This chymotrypsin-like serine protease as essential for the maturation of the viral polyprotein, and processing requires complex formation between NS3 and its cofactor NS4A. Recently, we reported on the discovery of potent cleavage product-derived inhibitors [Ingallinella et al. (1998) Biochemistry 37, 8906-8914]. Here we study the interaction of these inhibitors with NS3 and the NS3/cofactor complex. Inhibitors bind NS3 according to an induced-fit mechanism. In the absence of cofactor different binding modes are apparent, while in the presence of cofactor all inhibitors show the same binding mode with a small rearrangement in the NS3 structure, as suggested by circular dichroism spectroscopy. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that NS4A complexation induces an NS3 structure that is already (but not entirely) preorganized for substrate binding not only for what concerns the S' site, as already suggested, but also for the S site. Inhibitor binding to the NS3/cofactor complex induces the stabilization of the enzyme structure as highlighted by limited proteolysis experiments. We envisage that this may occur through stabilization of the individual N-terminal and C-terminal domains where the cofactor and inhibitor, respectively, bind and subsequent tightening of the interdomain interaction in the ternary complex.
ASJC Scopus subject areas