Targeting mechanism for SARS-CoV-2 in silico: Interaction and key groups of TMPRSS2 toward four potential drugs

Xiaoyu Zhao, Song Luo, Kaifang Huang, Danyang Xiong, John Z.H. Zhang, Lili Duan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The global dissemination of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has seriously endangered human health. The number of confirmed cases is still increasing; however, treatment options are limited. Transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2), as a key protease that primes the binding of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), has become an attractive target and received widespread attention. Thus, four potential drugs (bromhexine, camostat, gabexate, and nafamostat) were used to explore the mechanism of binding with TMPRSS2 in this work. A 65 ns molecular dynamics simulation was performed three times for each drug-TMPRSS2 system for reliable energy calculation and conformational analysis, of which the simulations of nafamostat-TMPRSS2 systems were further extended to 150 ns three times due to the discovery of two binding modes. Through the results of calculating binding free energy by nine methods, the binding affinity of camostat, gabexate, and nafamostat to TMPRSS2 showed great advantages compared with bromhexine, where the nafamostat was surprisingly found to present two reasonable binding conformations (forward and reverse directions). Two negatively charged amino acids (Asp435 and Glu299) can clamp the two positively charged groups (guanidinium group and amidinium group) in either forward or reverse fashion, and the forward one is more stable than the reverse. In addition, compared with gabexate, the dimethylamino group in camostat forms more van der Waals interactions with surrounding hot-spots His296 and Val280, resulting in a stronger affinity to TMPRSS2. For bromhexine, multiple binding sites are displayed in the binding pocket due to its small molecular structure, and van der Waals interactions play the dominant role in the binding process. In particular, six typical hot-spots were identified in the last three serine protease inhibitor systems, i.e., Asp435, Ser436, Gln438, Trp461, Ser463, and Gly464. The guanidinium groups of the drugs have powerful interactions with adjacent residues due to the formation of more hydrogen bonds, suggesting that this may be the critical site for drug design against TMPRSS2. This work provides valuable molecular insight into these four drug-TMPRSS2 binding mechanisms and is helpful for designing and screening drugs targeting TMPRSS2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19218-19237
Number of pages20
Issue number45
StatePublished - Dec 7 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


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