Computational Studies on the Substrate Interactions of Influenza A Virus PB2 Subunit
Influenza virus, which spreads around the world in seasonal epidemics and leads to large numbers of deaths every year, has several ribonucleoproteins in the central core of the viral particle. These viral ribonucleoproteins can specifically bind the conserved 3′ and 5′ caps of the viral RNAs with responsibility for replication and transcription of the viral RNA in the nucleus of infected cells. A fundamental question of most importance is that how the cap-binding proteins in the influenza virus discriminates between capped RNAs and non-capped ones. To get an answer, we performed molecular dynamics simulations and free energy calculations on the influenza A virus PB2 subunit, an important component of the RNP complexes, with a cap analog m7GTP. Our calculations showed that some key residues in the active site, such as Arg355, His357, Glu361 as well as Gln406, could offer significant hydrogen bonding and hydrophobic interactions with the guanine ring of the cap analog m7GTP to form an aromatic sandwich mechanism for the cap recognition and positioning in the active site. Subsequently, we applied this idea to a virtual screening procedure and identified 5 potential candidates that might be inhibitors against the PB2 subunit. Interestingly, 2 candidates Cpd1 and Cpd2 have been already reported to have inhibitory activities to the influenza virus cap-binding proteins. Further calculation also showed that they had comparatively higher binding affinities to the PB2 subunit than that of m7GTP. We believed that our findings could give an atomic insight into the deeper understanding of the cap recognition and binding mechanism, providing useful information for searching or designing novel drugs against influenza viruses.