Recently, an international randomized controlled clinical trial showed that patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection treated orally with the 3-chymotrypsin-like protease (3CLpro) inhibitor PF-07321332 within three days of symptom onset showed an 89% lower risk of COVID-19-related hospital admission/ death from any cause as compared with the patients who received placebo. Lending support to this critically important result of the aforementioned trial, we demonstrated in our study that patients infected with a SARS-Cov-2 sub-lineage (B.1.1.284) carrying the Pro108Ser mutation in 3CLpro tended to have a comparatively milder clinical course (i.e., a smaller proportion of patients required oxygen supplementation during the clinical course) than patients infected with the same sub-lineage of virus not carrying the mutation. Characterization of the mutant 3CLpro revealed that the Kcat/Km of the 3CLpro enzyme containing Ser108 was 58% lower than that of Pro108 3CLpro. Hydrogen/deuterium-exchange mass spectrometry (HDX-MS) revealed that the reduced activity was associated with structural perturbation surrounding the substrate-binding region of the enzyme, which is positioned behind and distant from the 108th amino acid residue. Our findings of the attenuated clinical course of COVID-19 in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 strains with reduced 3CLpro enzymatic activity greatly endorses the promising result of the aforementioned clinical trial of the 3CLpro inhibitor.
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