Our article on the mechanism of action of antiviral nucleotide analogs against SARS-CoV-2 polymerase is now out in eLife!

Great news: our work on antiviral nucleotide analogs impacting the ability of the SARS-CoV-2 polymerase to elongate RNA is now out in eLife. Special congratulations to Mona and Subhas who have led the study! Thanks to the other lab members and and all the collaborators involved.

Bellow is the digest from eLife:

To multiply and spread from cell to cell, the virus responsible for COVID-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2) must first replicate its genetic information. This process involves a ‘polymerase’ protein complex making a faithful copy by assembling a precise sequence of building blocks, or nucleotides.

The only drug approved against SARS-CoV-2 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), remdesivir, consists of a nucleotide analog, a molecule whose structure is similar to the actual building blocks needed for replication. If the polymerase recognizes and integrates these analogs into the growing genetic sequence, the replication mechanism is disrupted, and the virus cannot multiply. Most approaches to study this process seem to indicate that remdesivir works by stopping the polymerase and terminating replication altogether. Yet, exactly how remdesivir and other analogs impair the synthesis of new copies of the virus remains uncertain.

To explore this question, Seifert, Bera et al. employed an approach called magnetic tweezers which uses a magnetic field to manipulate micro-particles with great precision. Unlike other methods, this technique allows analogs to be integrated under conditions similar to those found in cells, and to be examined at the level of a single molecule.

The results show that contrary to previous assumptions, remdesivir does not terminate replication; instead, it causes the polymerase to pause and backtrack (which may appear as termination in other techniques). The same approach was then applied to other nucleotide analogs, some of which were also found to target the SARS-CoV-2 polymerase. However, these analogs are incorporated differently to remdesivir and with less efficiency. They also obstruct the polymerase in distinct ways.

Taken together, the results by Seifert, Bera et al. suggest that magnetic tweezers can be a powerful approach to reveal how analogs interfere with replication. This information could be used to improve currently available analogs as well as develop new antiviral drugs that are more effective against SARS-CoV-2. This knowledge will be key at a time when treatments against COVID-19 are still lacking, and may be needed to protect against new variants and future outbreaks.

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