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γ-Amino acids can play important roles in the biological activities of natural products; however, the ribosomal incorporation of γ-amino acids into peptides is challenging. Here we report how a selection campaign employing a non-canonical peptide library containing cyclic γ2,4-amino acids resulted in the discovery of very potent inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease (Mpro). Two kinds of cyclic γ2,4-amino acids, cis-3-aminocyclobutane carboxylic acid (γ1) and (1R,3S)-3-aminocyclopentane carboxylic acid (γ2), were ribosomally introduced into a library of thioether-macrocyclic peptides. One resultant potent Mpro inhibitor (half-maximal inhibitory concentration = 50 nM), GM4, comprising 13 residues with γ1 at the fourth position, manifests a 5.2 nM dissociation constant. An Mpro:GM4 complex crystal structure reveals the intact inhibitor spans the substrate binding cleft. The γ1 interacts with the S1' catalytic subsite and contributes to a 12-fold increase in proteolytic stability compared to its alanine-substituted variant. Knowledge of interactions between GM4 and Mpro enabled production of a variant with a 5-fold increase in potency.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Chem

Publication Date





998 - 1005


Amino Acids, Antiviral Agents, Carboxylic Acids, COVID-19, Peptides, Protease Inhibitors, Protein Conformation, SARS-CoV-2