Int J Med Sci 2020; 17(14):2133-2146. doi:10.7150/ijms.48053

Research Paper

COVID-19: Rational discovery of the therapeutic potential of Melatonin as a SARS-CoV-2 main Protease Inhibitor

Eduardo L Feitosa1, Francisco Tiago Dos S S Júnior1, José Arimatéa De O Nery Neto1, Luis F L Matos1, Matheus H De S Moura1, Thiele Osvaldt Rosales2, Guilherme Barroso L De Freitas1✉

1. Laboratório de Química Medicinal e Biotecnologia (LAQUIMB), Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, Federal University of Piauí, Teresina, PI, Brazil.
2. Department of Pharmacology, Federal University of Santa Catarina, SC, Brazil.

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Feitosa EL, Júnior FTDSS, Nery Neto JADO, Matos LFL, Moura MHDS, Rosales TO, De Freitas GBL. COVID-19: Rational discovery of the therapeutic potential of Melatonin as a SARS-CoV-2 main Protease Inhibitor. Int J Med Sci 2020; 17(14):2133-2146. doi:10.7150/ijms.48053. Available from

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The SARS-CoV-2 spread quickly across the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11 declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The mortality rate, hospital disorders and incalculable economic and social damages, besides the unproven efficacy of the treatments evaluated against COVID-19, raised the need for immediate control of this disease. Therefore, the current study employed in silico tools to rationally identify new possible SARS-CoV-2 main protease (Mpro) inhibitors. That is an enzyme conserved among the coronavirus species; hence, the identification of an Mpro inhibitor is to make it a broad-spectrum drug. Molecular docking studies described the binding sites and the interaction energies of 74 Mpro-ligand complexes deposited in the Protein Data Bank (PDB). A structural similarity screening was carried out in order to identify possible Mpro ligands that show additional pharmacological properties against COVID-19. We identified 59 hit compounds and among them, melatonin stood out due to its prominent immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory activities; it can reduce oxidative stress, defence cell mobility and efficiently combat the cytokine storm and sepsis. In addition, melatonin is an inhibitor of calmodulin, an essential intracellular component to maintain angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) on the cell surface. Interestingly, one of the most promising hits in our docking study was melatonin. It revealed better interaction energy with Mpro compared to ligands in complexes from PDB. Consequently, melatonin can have response potential in early stages for its possible effects on ACE-2 and Mpro, although it is also promising in more severe stages of the disease for its action against hyper-inflammation. These results definitely do not confirm antiviral activity, but can rather be used as a basis for further preclinical and clinical trials.

Keywords: Melatonin, COVID-19, Rational Design, Docking, hyper-inflammation