Identification of potential inhibitors for HCV NS3 genotype 4a by combining protein–ligand interaction fingerprint, 3D pharmacophore, docking, and dynamic simulation

HCV NS3 protease domain has been one of the most attractive targets for developing new drugs for HCV infection and many drugs were successfully developed, but all of them were designed for targeting HCV genotype 1 infection. HCV genotype 4a dominant in Egypt has paid less attention. Here, we describe our protocol of virtual screening in identification of novel potential potent inhibitors for HCV NS3 of genotype 4a using homology modeling, PLIF (protein–ligand interaction fingerprint), docking, pharmacophore, and dynamic simulation. A high-quality 3D model of HCV NS3 protease of genotype 4a was constructed using crystal structure of HCV NS3 protease of genotype 1b (PDB ID: 4u01) as a template. PLIF was generated using five crystal structures of HCV NS3 (PDB ID: 4u01, 3kee, 4ktc, 4i33, and 5epn) which revealed the most important residues and their interactions with the co-crystalized ligands. A 3D pharmacophore model consisting of six features was developed from the generated PLIF data and then used as a screening filter for 11,244 compounds. Only 423 compounds passed the pharmacophore filter and entered the docking-based virtual screening stage. The highest ranked five hits from docking result (compound (C1–C5)) were selected for further analysis. They exhibited stronger interaction and higher binding affinity than HCV NS3 protease ligands. Dynamic simulation of the protein–best lead complex was performed to validate and augment the virtual screening results and it showed that these compounds have a strong binding affinity and could be very effective in treating HCV genotype 4a infections.