Coronaviruses (CoVs) can infect humans and multiple species of animals, causing a wide spectrum of diseases. The coronavirus main protease (Mpro), which plays a pivotal role in viral gene expression and replication through the proteolytic processing of replicase polyproteins, is an attractive target for anti-CoV drug design. In this study, the crystal structures of infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) Mpro and a severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV (SARS-CoV) Mpro mutant (H41A), in complex with an N-terminal autocleavage substrate, were individually determined to elucidate the structural flexibility and substrate binding of Mpro. A monomeric form of IBV Mpro was identified for the first time in CoV Mpro structures. A comparison of these two structures to other available Mpro structures provides new insights for the design of substrate-based inhibitors targeting CoV Mpros. Furthermore, a Michael acceptor inhibitor (named N3) was cocrystallized with IBV Mpro and was found to demonstrate in vitro inactivation of IBV Mpro and potent antiviral activity against IBV in chicken embryos. This provides a feasible animal model for designing wide-spectrum inhibitors against CoV-associated diseases. The structure-based optimization of N3 has yielded two more efficacious lead compounds, N27 and H16, with potent inhibition against SARS-CoV Mpro
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