(+)-Usnic acid and its salts, inhibitors of SARS‐CoV‐2, identified by using in silico methods and in vitro assay
Eunseok Oh, Weihong Wang, Kyu-Hyung Park, Chanyoon Park, Youbin Cho, JunI Lee, Eunmo Kang & Heonjoong Kang
The pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been ongoing for over two years, and treatment for COVID-19, other than monoclonal antibodies, is urgently required. Accordingly, we have investigated the inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 protein targets by high-throughput virtual screening using a marine natural products database. Considering the calculated molecular properties and availability of the compounds, (+)-usnic acid was selected as a suitable hit. In the in vitro antiviral assay of (+)-usnic acid by the immunofluorescence method, IC50 was 7.99 μM, which is similar to that of remdesivir used as a positive control. The generalized Born and surface area continuum solvation (MM/GBSA) method was performed to find the potent target of (+)-usnic acid, and the Mpro protein showed the most prominent value, −52.05 kcal/mol, among other SARS-CoV-2 protein targets. Thereafter, RMSD and protein–ligand interactions were profiled using molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Sodium usnate (NaU) improved in vitro assay results with an IC50 of 5.33 μM and a selectivity index (SI) of 9.38. Additionally, when (+)-usnic acid was assayed against SARS-CoV-2 variants, it showed enhanced efficacy toward beta variants with an IC50 of 2.92 μM and SI of 11.1. We report the in vitro anti-SARS-CoV-2 efficacy of (+)-usnic acid in this study and propose that it has the potential to be developed as a COVID-19 treatment if its in vivo efficacy has been confirmed.
Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19