Publication date: Sep 25, 2023
SARS-CoV-2 main protease, M, plays a crucial role in the virus replication cycle, making it an important target for antiviral research. In this study, a simplified model obtained through truncation is used to explore the reaction mechanism of aldehyde warhead compounds inhibiting M at the level of density functional theory. According to the calculation results, proton transfer (P_T)-nucleophilic attack (N_A) is the rate-determining step in the entire reaction pathway. The water molecule that plays a catalytic role occupies the oxyanion hole, which is unfavorable for the aldehyde warhead to approach the Cys145 SH. Through a hypothetical study of substituting the main chain NH with methylene, it is further confirmed that the P_T-N_A is a proton transfer-dominated process accompanied by a nucleophilic attack reaction. In this process, the oxyanion hole serves only to stabilize the aldehyde oxygen anion and therefore does not have a significant impact on the activation free energy barrier of the step. Our research results provide a unique perspective for understanding the covalent inhibition reaction of the M active site. This study also offers theoretical guidance for the design of new M covalent inhibitors.