Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a severe neurological disorder caused by tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV), a member of the Flavivirus genus. Currently, two vaccines are available in Europe against TBEV. However, TBE cases have been rising in Sweden for the past twenty years, and thousands of cases are reported in Europe, emphasizing the need for antiviral treatments against this virus. The NS2B-NS3 protease is essential for flaviviral life cycle and has been studied as a target for the design of inhibitors against several well-known flaviviruses, but not TBEV. In the present study, Compound 86, a known tripeptidic inhibitor of dengue (DENV), West Nile (WNV) and Zika (ZIKV) proteases, was predicted to be active against TBEV protease using a combination of in silico techniques. Further, Compound 86 was found to inhibit recombinant TBEV protease with an IC = 0.92 μM in the in vitro enzymatic assay. Additionally, two more peptidic analogues were synthetized and they displayed inhibitory activities against both TBEV and ZIKV proteases. In particular, Compound 104 inhibited ZIKV protease with an IC = 0.25 μM. These compounds represent the first reported inhibitors of TBEV protease to date and provides valuable information for the further development of TBEV as well as pan-flavivirus protease inhibitors.
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