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Sci Adv. 2018 Nov 21;4(11):eaau8408. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aau8408. eCollection 2018 Nov.

Triterpenoids manipulate a broad range of virus-host fusion via wrapping the HR2 domain prevalent in viral envelopes.

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State Key Laboratory of Natural and Biomimetic Drugs, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Peking University, 38 Xueyuan Road, Beijing 100191, China.
U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, MD 21702, USA.


A trimer-of-hairpins motif has been identified in triggering virus-cell fusion within a variety of viral envelopes. Chemically manipulating such a motif represents current repertoire of viral fusion inhibitors. Here, we report that triterpenoids, a class of natural products, antagonize this trimer-of-hairpins via its constitutive heptad repeat-2 (HR2), a prevalent α-helical coil in class I viral fusion proteins. Triterpenoids inhibit the entry of Ebola, Marburg, HIV, and influenza A viruses with distinct structure-activity relationships. Specifically, triterpenoid probes capture the viral envelope via photocrosslinking HR2. Profiling the Ebola HR2-triterpenoid interactions using amino acid substitution, surface plasmon resonance, and nuclear magnetic resonance revealed six residues accessible to triterpenoids, leading to wrapping of the hydrophobic helix and blocking of the HR1-HR2 interaction critical in the trimer-of-hairpins formation. This finding was also observed in the envelopes of HIV and influenza A viruses and might potentially extend to a broader variety of viruses, providing a mechanistic insight into triterpenoid-mediated modulation of viral fusion.

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