Entropy driven cooperativity effect in multi-site drug optimization targeting SARS-CoV-2 papain-like protease

Lili Duan, Bolin Tang, Song Luo, Danyang Xiong, Qihang Wang, Xiaole Xu, John Z.H. Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Papain-like protease (PLpro), a non-structural protein encoded by SARS-CoV-2, is an important therapeutic target. Regions 1 and 5 of an existing drug, GRL0617, can be optimized to produce cooperativity with PLpro binding, resulting in stronger binding affinity. This work investigated the origin of the cooperativity using molecular dynamics simulations combined with the interaction entropy (IE) method. The regions’ improvement exhibits cooperativity by calculating the binding free energies between the complex of PLpro-inhibitor. The thermodynamic integration method further verified the cooperativity generated in the drug improvement. To further determine the specific source of cooperativity, enthalpy and entropy in the complexes were calculated using molecular mechanics/generalized Born surface area and IE. The results show that the entropic change is an important contributor to the cooperativity. Our study also identified residues P248, Q269, and T301 that play a significant role in cooperativity. The optimization of the inhibitor stabilizes these residues and minimizes the entropic loss, and the cooperativity observed in the binding free energy can be attributed to the change in the entropic contribution of these residues. Based on our research, the application of cooperativity can facilitate drug optimization, and provide theoretical ideas for drug development that leverage cooperativity by reducing the contribution of entropy through multi-locus binding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number313
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • Binding free energy
  • Cooperativity
  • Entropy contribution
  • Papain-like protease
  • Regional improvement of inhibitor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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