The 3C-like proteinase (3CLpro) of severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is one of the most promising targets for anti-SARS-CoV drugs due to its crucial role in the viral life cycle. In this study, a database containing structural information of more than 8,000 existing drugs was virtually screened by a docking approach to identify potential binding molecules of SARS-CoV 3CLpro. As a target for screening, both a homology model and the crystallographic structure of the binding pocket of the enzyme were used. Cinanserin (SQ 10,643), a well-characterized serotonin antagonist that has undergone preliminary clinical testing in humans in the 1960s, showed a high score in the screening and was chosen for further experimental evaluation. Binding of both cinanserin and its hydrochloride to bacterially expressed 3CLpro of SARS-CoV and the related human coronavirus 229E (HCoV-229E) was demonstrated by surface plasmon resonance technology. The catalytic activity of both enzymes was inhibited with 50% inhibitory concentration (IC50) values of 5 microM, as tested with a fluorogenic substrate. The antiviral activity of cinanserin was further evaluated in tissue culture assays, namely, a replicon system based on HCoV-229E and quantitative test assays with infectious SARS-CoV and HCoV-229E. All assays revealed a strong inhibition of coronavirus replication at nontoxic drug concentrations. The level of virus RNA and infectious particles was reduced by up to 4 log units, with IC50 values ranging from 19 to 34 microM. These findings demonstrate that the old drug cinanserin is an inhibitor of SARS-CoV replication, acting most likely via inhibition of the 3CL proteinase.