Stapled peptides based on human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (Ace2) potently inhibit sars-cov-2 infection in vitro

Francesca Curreli, Sofia M.B. Victor, Shahad Ahmed, Aleksandra Drelich, Xiaohe Tong, Chien Te K. Tseng, Christopher D. Hillyer, Asim K. Debnath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


SARS-CoV-2 uses human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as the primary receptor to enter host cells and initiate the infection. The critical binding region of ACE2 is an ∼30-amino-acid (aa)-long helix. Here, we report the design of four stapled peptides based on the ACE2 helix, which is expected to bind to SARS-CoV-2 and prevent the binding of the virus to the ACE2 receptor and disrupt the infection. All stapled peptides showed high helical contents (50 to 94% helicity). In contrast, the linear control peptide NYBSP-C showed no helicity (19%). We have evaluated the peptides in a pseudovirus-based single-cycle assay in HT1080/ACE2 cells and human lung cell line A549/ACE2, overexpressing ACE2. Three of the four stapled peptides showed potent antiviral activity in HT1080/ACE2 (50% inhibitory concentra-tion [IC50]: 1.9 to 4.1mM) and A549/ACE2 (IC50: 2.2 to 2.8mM) cells. The linear peptide NYBSP-C and the double-stapled peptide StRIP16, used as controls, showed no antiviral activity. Most significantly, none of the stapled peptides show any cytotoxicity at the highest dose tested. We also evaluated the antiviral activity of the peptides by infecting Vero E6 cells with the replication-competent authentic SARS-CoV-2 (US_WA-1/2020). NYBSP-1 was the most efficient, preventing the complete formation of cyto-pathic effects (CPEs) at an IC100 of 17.2mM. NYBSP-2 and NYBSP-4 also prevented the formation of the virus-induced CPE with an IC100 of about 33mM. We determined the proteolytic stability of one of the most active stapled peptides, NYBSP-4, in human plasma, which showed a half-life (T1/2)of>289 min. IMPORTANCE SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus with many unknowns. No vaccine or specific therapy is available yet to prevent and treat this deadly virus. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop novel therapeutics. Structural studies revealed critical interactions between the binding site helix of the ACE2 receptor and SARS-CoV-2 re-ceptor-binding domain (RBD). Therefore, targeting the entry pathway of SARS-CoV-2 is ideal for both prevention and treatment as it blocks the first step of the viral life cycle. We report the design of four double-stapled peptides, three of which showed potent antiviral activity in HT1080/ACE2 cells and human lung carcinoma cells, A549/ ACE2. Most significantly, the active stapled peptides with antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 showed high α-helicity (60 to 94%). The most active stapled peptide, NYBSP-4, showed substantial resistance to degradation by proteolytic enzymes in human plasma. The lead stapled peptides are expected to pave the way for further optimization of a clinical candidate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02451-20
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2)
  • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  • Hydrocarbon stapling
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)
  • Stapled peptides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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