Application of a cell-based protease assay for testing inhibitors of picornavirus 3C proteases

Lonneke Van Der Linden, Rachel Ulferts, Sander B. Nabuurs, Yuri Kusov, Hong Liu, Shyla George, Céline Lacroix, Nesya Goris, David Lefebvre, Kjerstin H.W. Lanke, Kris De Clercq, Rolf Hilgenfeld, Johan Neyts, Frank J.M. Van Kuppeveld*

*Corresponding author for this work
3 Citations (Scopus)


Proteolytical cleavage of the picornaviral polyprotein is essential for viral replication. Therefore, viral proteases are attractive targets for anti-viral therapy. Most assays available for testing proteolytical activity of proteases are performed in vitro, using heterologously expressed proteases and peptide substrates. To deal with the disadvantages associated with in vitro assays, we modified a cell-based protease assay for picornavirus proteases. The assay is based on the induction of expression of a firefly luciferase reporter by a chimeric transcription factor in which the viral protease and cleavage sites are inserted between the GAL4 binding domain and the VP16 activation domain. Firefly luciferase expression is dependent on cleavage of the transcription factor by the viral protease. This biosafe assay enables testing the effect of compounds on protease activity in cells while circumventing the need for infection. We designed the assay for 3C proteases (3Cpro) of various enteroviruses as well as of viruses of several other picornavirus genera, and show that the assay is amenable for use in a high-throughput setting. Furthermore, we show that the spectrum of activity of 3Cpro inhibitor AG7088 (rupintrivir) not only encompasses enterovirus 3Cpro but also 3Cpro of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV), an aphthovirus. In contrary, AG7404 (compound 1), an analogue of AG7088, had no effect on FMDV 3Cpro activity, for which we provide a structural explanation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAntiviral Research
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)17-24
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 01.03.2014


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