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Here, we show that four chemically divergent approved drugs reported to inhibit Ebolavirus infection, benztropine, bepridil, paroxetine and sertraline, directly interact with the Ebolavirus glycoprotein. Binding of these drugs destabilizes the protein, suggesting that this may be the mechanism of inhibition, as reported for the anticancer drug toremifene and the painkiller ibuprofen, which bind in the same large cavity on the glycoprotein. Crystal structures show that the position of binding and the mode of interaction within the pocket vary significantly between these compounds. The binding constants (Kd) determined by thermal shift assay correlate with the protein-inhibitor interactions as well as with the antiviral activities determined by virus cell entry assays, supporting the hypothesis that these drugs inhibit viral entry by binding the glycoprotein and destabilizing the prefusion conformation. Details of the protein-inhibitor interactions of these complexes and their relation with binding affinity may facilitate the design of more potent inhibitors.

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How small-molecule drugs fit into binding pockets in their targets is one of the central questions of medicinal chemistry. A new paperfrom a group at Oxford gives a good example of how varied that process can be – it’s looking at a number of drugs...