Human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major cause of respiratory tract infections worldwide. Several novel small-molecule inhibitors of RSV have been identified, but they are still in preclinical or early clinical evaluation. One such inhibitor is a recently discovered triphenol-based molecule, VP-14637 (ViroPharma). Initial experiments suggested that VP-14637 acted early and might be an RSV fusion inhibitor. Here we present studies demonstrating that VP-14637 does not block RSV adsorption but inhibits RSV-induced cell-cell fusion and binds specifically to RSV-infected cells with an affinity corresponding to its inhibitory potency. VP-14637 is capable of specifically interacting with the RSV fusion protein expressed by a T7 vaccinia virus system. RSV variants resistant to VP-14637 were selected; they had mutations localized to two distinct regions of the RSV F protein, heptad repeat 2 (HR2) and the intervening domain between heptad repeat 1 (HR1) and HR2. No mutations arose in HR1, suggesting a mechanism other than direct disruption of the heptad repeat interaction. The F proteins containing the resistance mutations exhibited greatly reduced binding of VP-14637. Despite segregating with the membrane fraction following incubation with intact RSV-infected cells, the compound did not bind to membranes isolated from RSV-infected cells. In addition, binding of VP-14637 was substantially compromised at temperatures of ≤22°C. Therefore, we propose that VP-14637 inhibits RSV through a novel mechanism involving an interaction between the compound and a transient conformation of the RSV F protein.
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