Dimethyl sulfoxide reduces the stability but enhances catalytic activity of the main SARS-CoV-2 protease 3CLpro

Juliana C. Ferreira, Samar Fadl, Metehan Ilter, Hanife Pekel, Rachid Rezgui, Ozge Sensoy, Wael M. Rabeh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is responsible for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), one of the most challenging global pandemics of the modern era. Potential treatment strategies against COVID-19 are yet to be devised. It is crucial that antivirals that interfere with the SARS-CoV-2 life cycle be identified and developed. 3-Chymotrypsin-like protease (3CLpro) is an attractive antiviral drug target against SARS-CoV-2, and coronaviruses in general, because of its role in the processing of viral polyproteins. Inhibitors of 3CLpro activity are screened in enzyme assays before further development of the most promising leads. Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is a common additive used in such assays and enhances the solubility of assay components. However, it may also potentially affect the stability and efficiency of 3CLpro but, to date, this effect had not been analyzed in detail. Here, we investigated the effect of DMSO on 3CLpro-catalyzed reaction. While DMSO (5%-20%) decreased the optimum temperature of catalysis and thermodynamic stability of 3CLpro, it only marginally affected the kinetic stability of the enzyme. Increasing the DMSO concentration up to 20% improved the catalytic efficiency and peptide-binding affinity of 3CLpro. At such high DMSO concentration, the solubility and stability of peptide substrate were improved because of reduced aggregation. In conclusion, we recommend 20% DMSO as the minimum concentration to be used in screens of 3CLpro inhibitors as lead compounds for the development of antiviral drugs against COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere21774
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • 3-chymotrypsin-like protease (3CLpro)
  • COVID-19
  • DMSO
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • initial velocity
  • thermodynamic stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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