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1.  Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Structure Shows that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-Unique Domain Contains a Macrodomain Fold▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;83(4):1823-1836.
The nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) structure of a central segment of the previously annotated severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-unique domain (SUD-M, for “middle of the SARS-unique domain”) in SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) nonstructural protein 3 (nsp3) has been determined. SUD-M(513-651) exhibits a macrodomain fold containing the nsp3 residues 528 to 648, and there is a flexibly extended N-terminal tail with the residues 513 to 527 and a C-terminal flexible tail of residues 649 to 651. As a follow-up to this initial result, we also solved the structure of a construct representing only the globular domain of residues 527 to 651 [SUD-M(527-651)]. NMR chemical shift perturbation experiments showed that SUD-M(527-651) binds single-stranded poly(A) and identified the contact area with this RNA on the protein surface, and electrophoretic mobility shift assays then confirmed that SUD-M has higher affinity for purine bases than for pyrimidine bases. In a further search for clues to the function, we found that SUD-M(527-651) has the closest three-dimensional structure homology with another domain of nsp3, the ADP-ribose-1"-phosphatase nsp3b, although the two proteins share only 5% sequence identity in the homologous sequence regions. SUD-M(527-651) also shows three-dimensional structure homology with several helicases and nucleoside triphosphate-binding proteins, but it does not contain the motifs of catalytic residues found in these structural homologues. The combined results from NMR screening of potential substrates and the structure-based homology studies now form a basis for more focused investigations on the role of the SARS-unique domain in viral infection.
PMCID: PMC2643772  PMID: 19052085
2.  SARS Coronavirus-unique Domain (SUD): Three-domain Molecular Architecture in Solution and RNA Binding 
Journal of molecular biology  2010;400(4):724-742.
The nonstructural protein 3 (nsp3) of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) includes a “SARS-unique region” (SUD) consisting of three globular domains separated by short linker peptide segments. This paper reports NMR structure determinations of the C-terminal domain (SUD-C) and of a two-domain construct (SUD-MC) containing the middle domain (SUD-M) and the C-terminal domain, and NMR data on the conformational states of the N-terminal domain (SUD-N) and the SUD-NM two-domain construct. Both SUD-N and SUD-NM are monomeric and globular in solution, and in SUD-NM there is high mobility in the two-residue interdomain linking sequence, with no preferred relative orientation of the two domains. SUD-C adopts a frataxin-like fold and has structural similarity to DNA-binding domains of DNA-modifying enzymes. The structures of both SUD-M (previously determined) and SUD-C (from the present study) are maintained in SUD-MC, where the two domains are flexibly linked. Gel shift experiments showed that both SUD-C and SUD-MC bind to single-stranded RNA and recognize purine bases more strongly than pyrimidine bases, whereby SUD-MC binds to a more restricted set of purine-containing RNA sequences than SUD-M. NMR chemical shift perturbation experiments with observation of the 15N-labeled proteins further resulted in the delineation of the RNA binding sites, i.e., in SUD-M a positively charged surface area with a pronounced cavity, and in SUD-C several residues of an antiparallel β-sheet. Overall, the present data provide evidence for molecular mechanisms involving concerted actions of SUD-M and SUD-C, which result in specific RNA-binding that might be unique to the SUD, and thus to the SARS-CoV.
PMCID: PMC2958096  PMID: 20493876
severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS); nonstructural protein 3 (nsp3); RNA binding proteins; macrodomains; frataxins; NMR structures
3.  Structure of Alphacoronavirus Transmissible Gastroenteritis Virus nsp1 Has Implications for Coronavirus nsp1 Function and Evolution 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(5):2949-2955.
Coronavirus nsp1 has been shown to induce suppression of host gene expression and to interfere with the host immune response. However, the mechanism is currently unknown. The only available structural information on coronavirus nsp1 is the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) structure of the N-terminal domain of nsp1 from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) from the betacoronavirus genus. Here we present the first nsp1 structure from an alphacoronavirus, transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV) nsp1. It displays a six-stranded β-barrel fold with a long alpha helix on the rim of the barrel, a fold shared with SARS-CoV nsp113–128. Contrary to previous speculation, the TGEV nsp1 structure suggests that coronavirus nsp1s have a common origin, despite the lack of sequence homology. However, comparisons of surface electrostatics, shape, and amino acid conservation between the alpha- and betacoronaviruses lead us to speculate that the mechanism for nsp1-induced suppression of host gene expression might be different in these two genera.
PMCID: PMC3571401  PMID: 23269811
4.  Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus as an Agent of Emerging and Reemerging Infection 
Clinical Microbiology Reviews  2007;20(4):660-694.
Before the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in 2003, only 12 other animal or human coronaviruses were known. The discovery of this virus was soon followed by the discovery of the civet and bat SARS-CoV and the human coronaviruses NL63 and HKU1. Surveillance of coronaviruses in many animal species has increased the number on the list of coronaviruses to at least 36. The explosive nature of the first SARS epidemic, the high mortality, its transient reemergence a year later, and economic disruptions led to a rush on research of the epidemiological, clinical, pathological, immunological, virological, and other basic scientific aspects of the virus and the disease. This research resulted in over 4,000 publications, only some of the most representative works of which could be reviewed in this article. The marked increase in the understanding of the virus and the disease within such a short time has allowed the development of diagnostic tests, animal models, antivirals, vaccines, and epidemiological and infection control measures, which could prove to be useful in randomized control trials if SARS should return. The findings that horseshoe bats are the natural reservoir for SARS-CoV-like virus and that civets are the amplification host highlight the importance of wildlife and biosecurity in farms and wet markets, which can serve as the source and amplification centers for emerging infections.
PMCID: PMC2176051  PMID: 17934078
5.  From SARS coronavirus to novel animal and human coronaviruses 
Journal of Thoracic Disease  2013;5(Suppl 2):S103-S108.
In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) caused one of the most devastating epidemics known to the developed world. There were two important lessons from this epidemic. Firstly, coronaviruses, in addition to influenza viruses, can cause severe and rapidly spreading human infections. Secondly, bats can serve as the origin and natural animal reservoir of deadly human viruses. Since then, researchers around the world, especially those in Asia where SARS-CoV was first identified, have turned their focus to find novel coronaviruses infecting humans, bats, and other animals. Two human coronaviruses, HCoV-HKU1 and HCoV-NL63, were identified shortly after the SARS-CoV epidemic as common causes of human respiratory tract infections. In 2012, a novel human coronavirus, now called Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), has emerged in the Middle East to cause fatal human infections in three continents. MERS-CoV human infection is similar to SARS-CoV in having a high fatality rate and the ability to spread from person to person which resulted in secondary cases among close contacts including healthcare workers without travel history to the Middle East. Both viruses also have close relationships with bat coronaviruses. New cases of MERS-CoV infection in humans continue to occur with the origins of the virus still unknown in many cases. A multifaceted approach is necessary to control this evolving MERS-CoV outbreak. Source identification requires detailed epidemiological studies of the infected patients and enhanced surveillance of MERS-CoV or similar coronaviruses in humans and animals. Early diagnosis of infected patients and appropriate infection control measures will limit the spread in hospitals, while social distancing strategies may be necessary to control the outbreak in communities if it remained uncontrolled as in the SARS epidemic.
PMCID: PMC3747523  PMID: 23977429
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV); novel coronaviruses; Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)
6.  Review of Bats and SARS 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2006;12(12):1834-1840.
TOC Summary: The discovery of SARS-like coronaviruses in horseshoe bats highlights the possibility of future outbreaks caused by different coronaviruses of bat origin.
Bats have been identified as a natural reservoir for an increasing number of emerging zoonotic viruses, including henipaviruses and variants of rabies viruses. Recently, we and another group independently identified several horseshoe bat species (genus Rhinolophus) as the reservoir host for a large number of viruses that have a close genetic relationship with the coronavirus associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Our current research focused on the identification of the reservoir species for the progenitor virus of the SARS coronaviruses responsible for outbreaks during 2002–2003 and 2003–2004. In addition to SARS-like coronaviruses, many other novel bat coronaviruses, which belong to groups 1 and 2 of the 3 existing coronavirus groups, have been detected by PCR. The discovery of bat SARS-like coronaviruses and the great genetic diversity of coronaviruses in bats have shed new light on the origin and transmission of SARS coronaviruses.
PMCID: PMC3291347  PMID: 17326933
emerging zoonoses; SARS; coronavirus; bats; animal reservoir; spillover; synopsis
7.  Expression, purification and characterization of recombinant severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus non-structural protein 1 
The coronavirus (CoV) responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), SARS-CoV, encodes two large polyproteins (pp1a and pp1ab) that are processed by two viral proteases to yield mature non-structural proteins (nsps). Many of these nsps have essential roles in viral replication, but several have no assigned function and possess amino acid sequences that are unique to the CoV family. One such protein is SARS-CoV nsp1, which is processed from the N-terminus of both pp1a and pp1ab. The mature SARS-CoV protein is present in cells several hours post-infection and co-localizes to the viral replication complex, but its function in the viral life cycle remains unknown. Furthermore, nsp1 sequences are highly divergent across the CoV family, and it has been suggested that this is due to nsp1 possessing a function specific to viral interactions with its host cell or acting as a host specific virulence factor. In order to initiate structural and biophysical studies of SARS-CoV nsp1, a recombinant expression system and a purification protocol have been developed, yielding milligram quantities of highly purified SARS-CoV nsp1. The purified protein was characterized using circular dichroism, size exclusion chromatography, and multi-angle light scattering.
PMCID: PMC1862784  PMID: 17187987
8.  Chimeric Exchange of Coronavirus nsp5 Proteases (3CLpro) Identifies Common and Divergent Regulatory Determinants of Protease Activity 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(23):12611-12618.
Human coronaviruses (CoVs) such as severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome CoV (MERS-CoV) cause epidemics of severe human respiratory disease. A conserved step of CoV replication is the translation and processing of replicase polyproteins containing 16 nonstructural protein domains (nsp's 1 to 16). The CoV nsp5 protease (3CLpro; Mpro) processes nsp's at 11 cleavage sites and is essential for virus replication. CoV nsp5 has a conserved 3-domain structure and catalytic residues. However, the intra- and intermolecular determinants of nsp5 activity and their conservation across divergent CoVs are unknown, in part due to challenges in cultivating many human and zoonotic CoVs. To test for conservation of nsp5 structure-function determinants, we engineered chimeric betacoronavirus murine hepatitis virus (MHV) genomes encoding nsp5 proteases of human and bat alphacoronaviruses and betacoronaviruses. Exchange of nsp5 proteases from HCoV-HKU1 and HCoV-OC43, which share the same genogroup, genogroup 2a, with MHV, allowed for immediate viral recovery with efficient replication albeit with impaired fitness in direct competition with wild-type MHV. Introduction of MHV nsp5 temperature-sensitive mutations into chimeric HKU1 and OC43 nsp5 proteases resulted in clear differences in viability and temperature-sensitive phenotypes compared with MHV nsp5. These data indicate tight genetic linkage and coevolution between nsp5 protease and the genomic background and identify differences in intramolecular networks regulating nsp5 function. Our results also provide evidence that chimeric viruses within coronavirus genogroups can be used to test nsp5 determinants of function and inhibition in common isogenic backgrounds and cell types.
PMCID: PMC3838113  PMID: 24027335
9.  SARS coronavirus replicase proteins in pathogenesis 
Virus research  2007;133(1):88-100.
Much progress has been made in understanding the role of structural and accessory proteins in the pathogenesis of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) infections. The SARS epidemic also brought new attention to the proteins translated from ORF1a and ORF1b of the input genome RNA, also known as the replicase/transcriptase gene. Evidence for change within the ORF1ab coding sequence during the SARS epidemic, as well as evidence from studies with other coronaviruses, indicates that it is likely that the ORF1ab proteins play roles in virus pathogenesis distinct from or in addition to functions directly involved in viral replication. Recent reverse genetic studies have confirmed that proteins of ORF1ab may be involved in cellular signaling and modification of cellular gene expression, as well as virulence by mechanisms yet to be determined. Thus, the evolution of the ORF1ab proteins may be determined as much by issues of host range and virulence as they are by specific requirements for intracellular replication.
PMCID: PMC2637536  PMID: 17397959
SARS coronavirus; SARS-CoV; Replication; Pathogenesis; Reverse genetics; Protein processing; Temperature-sensitive mutants; ts mutants
10.  Broad-Spectrum In Vitro Activity and In Vivo Efficacy of the Antiviral Protein Griffithsin against Emerging Viruses of the Family Coronaviridae▿  
Journal of Virology  2009;84(5):2511-2521.
Viruses of the family Coronaviridae have recently emerged through zoonotic transmission to become serious human pathogens. The pathogenic agent responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), is a member of this large family of positive-strand RNA viruses that cause a spectrum of disease in humans, other mammals, and birds. Since the publicized outbreaks of SARS in China and Canada in 2002-2003, significant efforts successfully identified the causative agent, host cell receptor(s), and many of the pathogenic mechanisms underlying SARS. With this greater understanding of SARS-CoV biology, many researchers have sought to identify agents for the treatment of SARS. Here we report the utility of the potent antiviral protein griffithsin (GRFT) in the prevention of SARS-CoV infection both in vitro and in vivo. We also show that GRFT specifically binds to the SARS-CoV spike glycoprotein and inhibits viral entry. In addition, we report the activity of GRFT against a variety of additional coronaviruses that infect humans, other mammals, and birds. Finally, we show that GRFT treatment has a positive effect on morbidity and mortality in a lethal infection model using a mouse-adapted SARS-CoV and also specifically inhibits deleterious aspects of the host immunological response to SARS infection in mammals.
PMCID: PMC2820936  PMID: 20032190
11.  Prevalence and Genetic Diversity of Coronaviruses in Bats from China 
Journal of Virology  2006;80(15):7481-7490.
Coronaviruses can infect a variety of animals including poultry, livestock, and humans and are currently classified into three groups. The interspecies transmissions of coronaviruses between different hosts form a complex ecosystem of which little is known. The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the recent identification of new coronaviruses have highlighted the necessity for further investigation of coronavirus ecology, in particular the role of bats and other wild animals. In this study, we sampled bat populations in 15 provinces of China and reveal that approximately 6.5% of the bats, from diverse species distributed throughout the region, harbor coronaviruses. Full genomes of four coronavirues from bats were sequenced and analyzed. Phylogenetic analyses of the spike, envelope, membrane, and nucleoprotein structural proteins and the two conserved replicase domains, putative RNA-dependent RNA polymerase and RNA helicase, revealed that bat coronaviruses cluster in three different groups: group 1, another group that includes all SARS and SARS-like coronaviruses (putative group 4), and an independent bat coronavirus group (putative group 5). Further genetic analyses showed that different species of bats maintain coronaviruses from different groups and that a single bat species from different geographic locations supports similar coronaviruses. Thus, the findings of this study suggest that bats may play an integral role in the ecology and evolution of coronaviruses.
PMCID: PMC1563713  PMID: 16840328
12.  Structure-Function Analysis of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus RNA Cap Guanine-N7-Methyltransferase 
Journal of Virology  2013;87(11):6296-6305.
Coronaviruses possess a cap structure at the 5′ ends of viral genomic RNA and subgenomic RNAs, which is generated through consecutive methylations by virally encoded guanine-N7-methyltransferase (N7-MTase) and 2′-O-methyltransferase (2′-O-MTase). The coronaviral N7-MTase is unique for its physical linkage with an exoribonuclease (ExoN) harbored in nonstructural protein 14 (nsp14) of coronaviruses. In this study, the structure-function relationships of the N7-MTase were analyzed by deletion and site-directed mutagenesis of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) nsp14. The results showed that the ExoN domain is closely involved in the activity of the N7-MTase, suggesting that coronavirus N7-MTase is different from all other viral N7-MTases, which are separable from other structural domains located in the same polypeptide. Two of the 12 critical residues identified to be essential for the N7-MTase were located at the N terminus of the core ExoN domain, reinforcing a role of the ExoN domain in the N7-MTase activity of nsp14. The other 10 critical residues were distributed throughout the N7-MTase domain but localized mainly in the S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAM)-binding pocket and key structural elements of the MTase fold of nsp14. The sequence motif DxGxPxA (amino acids [aa] 331 to 338) was identified as the key part of the SAM-binding site. These results provide insights into the structure and functional mechanisms of coronaviral nsp14 N7-MTase.
PMCID: PMC3648086  PMID: 23536667
13.  Identification of a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-Like Virus in a Leaf-Nosed Bat in Nigeria 
mBio  2010;1(4):e00208-10.
Bats are reservoirs for emerging zoonotic viruses that can have a profound impact on human and animal health, including lyssaviruses, filoviruses, paramyxoviruses, and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses (SARS-CoVs). In the course of a project focused on pathogen discovery in contexts where human-bat contact might facilitate more efficient interspecies transmission of viruses, we surveyed gastrointestinal tissue obtained from bats collected in caves in Nigeria that are frequented by humans. Coronavirus consensus PCR and unbiased high-throughput pyrosequencing revealed the presence of coronavirus sequences related to those of SARS-CoV in a Commerson’s leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros commersoni). Additional genomic sequencing indicated that this virus, unlike subgroup 2b CoVs, which includes SARS-CoV, is unique, comprising three overlapping open reading frames between the M and N genes and two conserved stem-loop II motifs. Phylogenetic analyses in conjunction with these features suggest that this virus represents a new subgroup within group 2 CoVs.
Bats (order Chiroptera, suborders Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera) are reservoirs for a wide range of viruses that cause diseases in humans and livestock, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), responsible for the global SARS outbreak in 2003. The diversity of viruses harbored by bats is only just beginning to be understood because of expanded wildlife surveillance and the development and application of new tools for pathogen discovery. This paper describes a new coronavirus, one with a distinctive genomic organization that may provide insights into coronavirus evolution and biology.
PMCID: PMC2975989  PMID: 21063474
14.  The nsp2 Replicase Proteins of Murine Hepatitis Virus and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Are Dispensable for Viral Replication 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(21):13399-13411.
The positive-stranded RNA genome of the coronaviruses is translated from ORF1 to yield polyproteins that are proteolytically processed into intermediate and mature nonstructural proteins (nsps). Murine hepatitis virus (MHV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) polyproteins incorporate 16 protein domains (nsps), with nsp1 and nsp2 being the most variable among the coronaviruses and having no experimentally confirmed or predicted functions in replication. To determine if nsp2 is essential for viral replication, MHV and SARS-CoV genome RNA was generated with deletions of the nsp2 coding sequence (MHVΔnsp2 and SARSΔnsp2, respectively). Infectious MHVΔnsp2 and SARSΔnsp2 viruses recovered from electroporated cells had 0.5 to 1 log10 reductions in peak titers in single-cycle growth assays, as well as a reduction in viral RNA synthesis that was not specific for any positive-stranded RNA species. The Δnsp2 mutant viruses lacked expression of both nsp2 and an nsp2-nsp3 precursor, but cleaved the engineered chimeric nsp1-nsp3 cleavage site as efficiently as the native nsp1-nsp2 cleavage site. Replication complexes in MHVΔnsp2-infected cells lacked nsp2 but were morphologically indistinguishable from those of wild-type MHV by immunofluorescence. nsp2 expressed in cells by stable retroviral transduction was specifically recruited to viral replication complexes upon infection with MHVΔnsp2. These results demonstrate that while nsp2 of MHV and SARS-CoV is dispensable for viral replication in cell culture, deletion of the nsp2 coding sequence attenuates viral growth and RNA synthesis. These findings also provide a system for the study of determinants of nsp targeting and function.
PMCID: PMC1262610  PMID: 16227261
15.  Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus nsp1 Suppresses Host Gene Expression, Including That of Type I Interferon, in Infected Cells▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(9):4471-4479.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) nsp1 protein has unique biological functions that have not been described in the viral proteins of any RNA viruses; expressed SARS-CoV nsp1 protein has been found to suppress host gene expression by promoting host mRNA degradation and inhibiting translation. We generated an nsp1 mutant (nsp1-mt) that neither promoted host mRNA degradation nor suppressed host protein synthesis in expressing cells. Both a SARS-CoV mutant virus, encoding the nsp1-mt protein (SARS-CoV-mt), and a wild-type virus (SARS-CoV-WT) replicated efficiently and exhibited similar one-step growth kinetics in susceptible cells. Both viruses accumulated similar amounts of virus-specific mRNAs and nsp1 protein in infected cells, whereas the amounts of endogenous host mRNAs were clearly higher in SARS-CoV-mt-infected cells than in SARS-CoV-WT-infected cells, in both the presence and absence of actinomycin D. Further, SARS-CoV-WT replication strongly inhibited host protein synthesis, whereas host protein synthesis inhibition in SARS-CoV-mt-infected cells was not as efficient as in SARS-CoV-WT-infected cells. These data revealed that nsp1 indeed promoted host mRNA degradation and contributed to host protein translation inhibition in infected cells. Notably, SARS-CoV-mt infection, but not SARS-CoV-WT infection, induced high levels of beta interferon (IFN) mRNA accumulation and high titers of type I IFN production. These data demonstrated that SARS-CoV nsp1 suppressed host innate immune functions, including type I IFN expression, in infected cells and suggested that SARS-CoV nsp1 most probably plays a critical role in SARS-CoV virulence.
PMCID: PMC2293030  PMID: 18305050
16.  Evolutionary Insights into the Ecology of Coronaviruses▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(8):4012-4020.
Although many novel members of the Coronaviridae have recently been recognized in different species, the ecology of coronaviruses has not been established. Our study indicates that bats harbor a much wider diversity of coronaviruses than any other animal species. Dating of different coronavirus lineages suggests that bat coronaviruses are older than those recognized in other animals and that the human severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus was directly derived from viruses from wild animals in wet markets of southern China. Furthermore, the most closely related bat and SARS coronaviruses diverged in 1986, an estimated divergence time of 17 years prior to the outbreak, suggesting that there may have been transmission via an unknown intermediate host. Analysis of lineage-specific selection pressure also indicated that only SARS coronaviruses in civets and humans were under significant positive selection, also demonstrating a recent interspecies transmission. Analysis of population dynamics revealed that coronavirus populations in bats have constant population growth, while viruses from all other hosts show epidemic-like increases in population. These results indicate that diverse coronaviruses are endemic in different bat species, with repeated introductions to other animals and occasional establishment in other species. Our findings suggest that bats are likely the natural hosts for all presently known coronavirus lineages and that all coronaviruses recognized in other species were derived from viruses residing in bats. Further surveillance of bat and other animal populations is needed to fully describe the ecology and evolution of this virus family.
PMCID: PMC1866124  PMID: 17267506
17.  Genome-Wide Analysis of Protein-Protein Interactions and Involvement of Viral Proteins in SARS-CoV Replication 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(10):e3299.
Analyses of viral protein-protein interactions are an important step to understand viral protein functions and their underlying molecular mechanisms. In this study, we adopted a mammalian two-hybrid system to screen the genome-wide intraviral protein-protein interactions of SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and therefrom revealed a number of novel interactions which could be partly confirmed by in vitro biochemical assays. Three pairs of the interactions identified were detected in both directions: non-structural protein (nsp) 10 and nsp14, nsp10 and nsp16, and nsp7 and nsp8. The interactions between the multifunctional nsp10 and nsp14 or nsp16, which are the unique proteins found in the members of Nidovirales with large RNA genomes including coronaviruses and toroviruses, may have important implication for the mechanisms of replication/transcription complex assembly and functions of these viruses. Using a SARS-CoV replicon expressing a luciferase reporter under the control of a transcription regulating sequence, it has been shown that several viral proteins (N, X and SUD domains of nsp3, and nsp12) provided in trans stimulated the replicon reporter activity, indicating that these proteins may regulate coronavirus replication and transcription. Collectively, our findings provide a basis and platform for further characterization of the functions and mechanisms of coronavirus proteins.
PMCID: PMC2553179  PMID: 18827877
18.  Mechanisms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Pathogenesis and Innate Immunomodulation 
Summary: The modulation of the immune response is a common practice of many highly pathogenic viruses. The emergence of the highly pathogenic coronavirus severe acute respiratory virus (SARS-CoV) serves as a robust model system to elucidate the virus-host interactions that mediate severe end-stage lung disease in humans and animals. Coronaviruses encode the largest positive-sense RNA genome of ∼30 kb, encode a variety of replicase and accessory open reading frames that are structurally unique, and encode novel enzymatic functions among RNA viruses. These viruses have broad or specific host ranges, suggesting the possibility of novel strategies for targeting and regulating host innate immune responses following virus infection. Using SARS-CoV as a model, we review the current literature on the ability of coronaviruses to interact with and modify the host intracellular environment during infection. These studies are revealing a rich set of novel viral proteins that engage, modify, and/or disrupt host cell signaling and nuclear import machinery for the benefit of virus replication.
PMCID: PMC2593566  PMID: 19052324
19.  In Vitro Reconstitution of SARS-Coronavirus mRNA Cap Methylation 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(4):e1000863.
SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) genome expression depends on the synthesis of a set of mRNAs, which presumably are capped at their 5′ end and direct the synthesis of all viral proteins in the infected cell. Sixteen viral non-structural proteins (nsp1 to nsp16) constitute an unusually large replicase complex, which includes two methyltransferases putatively involved in viral mRNA cap formation. The S-adenosyl-L-methionine (AdoMet)-dependent (guanine-N7)-methyltransferase (N7-MTase) activity was recently attributed to nsp14, whereas nsp16 has been predicted to be the AdoMet-dependent (nucleoside-2′O)-methyltransferase. Here, we have reconstituted complete SARS-CoV mRNA cap methylation in vitro. We show that mRNA cap methylation requires a third viral protein, nsp10, which acts as an essential trigger to complete RNA cap-1 formation. The obligate sequence of methylation events is initiated by nsp14, which first methylates capped RNA transcripts to generate cap-0 7MeGpppA-RNAs. The latter are then selectively 2′O-methylated by the 2′O-MTase nsp16 in complex with its activator nsp10 to give rise to cap-1 7MeGpppA2′OMe-RNAs. Furthermore, sensitive in vitro inhibition assays of both activities show that aurintricarboxylic acid, active in SARS-CoV infected cells, targets both MTases with IC50 values in the micromolar range, providing a validated basis for anti-coronavirus drug design.
Author Summary
In 2003, an emerging coronavirus (CoV) was identified as the etiological agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). SARS-CoV replicates and transcribes its large RNA genome using a membrane-bound enzyme complex containing a variety of viral nonstructural proteins. A critical step during RNA synthesis is the addition of a cap structure to the newly produced viral mRNAs, ensuring their efficient translation by host cell ribosomes. Viruses generally acquire their cap structure either from cellular mRNAs (e.g., “cap snatching” of influenza virus) or employ their own capping machinery, as is supposed to be the case for coronaviruses. mRNA caps synthesized by viruses are structurally and functionally undistinguishable from cellular mRNAs caps. In coronaviruses, methylation of mRNA caps seems to be essential, since mutations in viral methyltransferases nsp14 or nsp16 render non-viable virus. We have discovered an unexpected key role for SARS-CoV nsp10, a protein of previously unknown function, within mRNA cap methylation. Nsp10 induces selective 2′O-methylation of guanine-N7 methylated capped RNAs through direct activation of the otherwise inactive nsp16. This finding allows the full reconstitution of the SARS-CoV mRNA cap methylation sequence in vitro and opens the way to exploit the mRNA cap methyltransferases as targets for anti-coronavirus drug design.
PMCID: PMC2858705  PMID: 20421945
20.  Expression, purification and crystallization of the SARS-CoV macro domain 
The SARS-CoV macro domain was expressed, purified and crystallized. Selenomethionine-labelled crystals diffracted to 1.8 Å resolution.
Macro domains or X domains are found as modules of multidomain proteins, but can also constitute a protein on their own. Recently, biochemical and structural studies of cellular macro domains have been performed, showing that they are active as ADP-ribose-1′′-phosphatases. Macro domains are also present in a number of positive-stranded RNA viruses, but their precise function in viral replication is still unknown. The major human pathogen severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) encodes 16 non-structural proteins (nsps), one of which (nsp3) encompasses a macro domain. The SARS-CoV nsp3 gene region corresponding to amino acids 182–355 has been cloned, expressed in Escherichia coli, purified and crystallized. The crystals belong to space group P21, with unit-cell parameters a = 37.5, b = 55.6, c = 108.9 Å, β = 91.4°, and the asymmetric unit contains either two or three molecules. Both native and selenomethionine-labelled crystals diffract to 1.8 Å.
PMCID: PMC2222557  PMID: 16582497
SARS-CoV; macro domains
21.  The SARS-Coronavirus-Host Interactome: Identification of Cyclophilins as Target for Pan-Coronavirus Inhibitors 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002331.
Coronaviruses (CoVs) are important human and animal pathogens that induce fatal respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological disease. The outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002/2003 has demonstrated human vulnerability to (Coronavirus) CoV epidemics. Neither vaccines nor therapeutics are available against human and animal CoVs. Knowledge of host cell proteins that take part in pivotal virus-host interactions could define broad-spectrum antiviral targets. In this study, we used a systems biology approach employing a genome-wide yeast-two hybrid interaction screen to identify immunopilins (PPIA, PPIB, PPIH, PPIG, FKBP1A, FKBP1B) as interaction partners of the CoV non-structural protein 1 (Nsp1). These molecules modulate the Calcineurin/NFAT pathway that plays an important role in immune cell activation. Overexpression of NSP1 and infection with live SARS-CoV strongly increased signalling through the Calcineurin/NFAT pathway and enhanced the induction of interleukin 2, compatible with late-stage immunopathogenicity and long-term cytokine dysregulation as observed in severe SARS cases. Conversely, inhibition of cyclophilins by cyclosporine A (CspA) blocked the replication of CoVs of all genera, including SARS-CoV, human CoV-229E and -NL-63, feline CoV, as well as avian infectious bronchitis virus. Non-immunosuppressive derivatives of CspA might serve as broad-range CoV inhibitors applicable against emerging CoVs as well as ubiquitous pathogens of humans and livestock.
Author Summary
Broad-range anti-infective drugs are well known against bacteria, fungi, and parasites. These pathogens maintain their own metabolism distinctive from that of the host. Broad-range drugs can be obtained by targeting elements that several of these organisms have in common. In contrast, target overlap between different viruses is minimal. The replication of viruses is highly interweaved with the metabolism of the host cell. A high potential in the development of antivirals with broad activity might therefore reside in the identification of host factors elemental to virus replication. In this work we followed a systems biology approach, screening for interactions between virus and host proteins by employing an automated yeast-two-hybrid setup. Upon binding of a viral protein to cyclophilins the screen led to the identification of the Calcineurin/NFAT pathway possibly being involved in the pathogenesis of SARS-Coronavirus. Secondly, cyclophilins were suggested to play an elemental role in virus replication since cyclosporin A inhibited replication of all Coronavirus prototype members tested. This large range of viruses includes common cold viruses, the SARS agent, as well as a range of animal viruses. For the first time this work shows that an undirected, systems-biology approach could identify a host-encoded, broad-range antiviral target.
PMCID: PMC3203193  PMID: 22046132
22.  Crystal Structure of a Monomeric Form of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Endonuclease nsp15 Suggests a Role for Hexamerization as an Allosteric Switch▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(12):6700-6708.
Mature nonstructural protein-15 (nsp15) from the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) contains a novel uridylate-specific Mn2+-dependent endoribonuclease (NendoU). Structure studies of the full-length form of the obligate hexameric enzyme from two CoVs, SARS-CoV and murine hepatitis virus, and its monomeric homologue, XendoU from Xenopus laevis, combined with mutagenesis studies have implicated several residues in enzymatic activity and the N-terminal domain as the major determinant of hexamerization. However, the tight link between hexamerization and enzyme activity in NendoUs has remained an enigma. Here, we report the structure of a trimmed, monomeric form of SARS-CoV nsp15 (residues 28 to 335) determined to a resolution of 2.9 Å. The catalytic loop (residues 234 to 249) with its two reactive histidines (His 234 and His 249) is dramatically flipped by ∼120° into the active site cleft. Furthermore, the catalytic nucleophile Lys 289 points in a diametrically opposite direction, a consequence of an outward displacement of the supporting loop (residues 276 to 295). In the full-length hexameric forms, these two loops are packed against each other and are stabilized by intimate intersubunit interactions. Our results support the hypothesis that absence of an adjacent monomer due to deletion of the hexamerization domain is the most likely cause for disruption of the active site, offering a structural basis for why only the hexameric form of this enzyme is active.
PMCID: PMC1900129  PMID: 17409150
23.  Receptor-binding domain as a target for developing SARS vaccines 
Journal of Thoracic Disease  2013;5(Suppl 2):S142-S148.
A decade ago, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SARS-CoV) caused a global pandemic with a mortality rate of 10%. Reports of recent outbreaks of a SARS-like disease caused by Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) have raised serious concerns of a possible reemergence of SARS-CoV, either by laboratory escape or the presence of a natural reservoir. Therefore, the development of effective and safe SARS vaccines is still needed. Based on our previous studies, we believe that the receptor-binding domain (RBD) in the S1 subunit of the SARS-CoV spike (S) protein is the most important target for developing a SARS vaccine. In particular, RBD of S protein contains the critical neutralizing domain (CND), which is able to induce highly potent neutralizing antibody response and cross-protection against divergent SARS-CoV strains. Furthermore, a RBD-based subunit vaccine is expected to be safer than other vaccines that may induce Th2-type immunopathology. This review will discuss key advances in the development of RBD-based SARS vaccines and the possibility of using a similar strategy to develop vaccines against MERS-CoV.
PMCID: PMC3747534  PMID: 23977435
Virus; severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SARS-CoV); receptor-binding domain (RBD); spike protein; vaccine
24.  Crystal Structure of Nonstructural Protein 10 from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Reveals a Novel Fold with Two Zinc-Binding Motifs†  
Journal of Virology  2006;80(16):7894-7901.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) possesses a large 29.7-kb positive-stranded RNA genome. The first open reading frame encodes replicase polyproteins 1a and 1ab, which are cleaved to generate 16 “nonstructural” proteins, nsp1 to nsp16, involved in viral replication and/or RNA processing. Among these, nsp10 plays a critical role in minus-strand RNA synthesis in a related coronavirus, murine hepatitis virus. Here, we report the crystal structure of SARS-CoV nsp10 at a resolution of 1.8 Å as determined by single-wavelength anomalous dispersion using phases derived from hexatantalum dodecabromide. nsp10 is a single domain protein consisting of a pair of antiparallel N-terminal helices stacked against an irregular β-sheet, a coil-rich C terminus, and two Zn fingers. nsp10 represents a novel fold and is the first structural representative of this family of Zn finger proteins found so far exclusively in coronaviruses. The first Zn finger coordinates a Zn2+ ion in a unique conformation. The second Zn finger, with four cysteines, is a distant member of the “gag-knuckle fold group” of Zn2+-binding domains and appears to maintain the structural integrity of the C-terminal tail. A distinct clustering of basic residues on the protein surface suggests a nucleic acid-binding function. Gel shift assays indicate that in isolation, nsp10 binds single- and double-stranded RNA and DNA with high-micromolar affinity and without obvious sequence specificity. It is possible that nsp10 functions within a larger RNA-binding protein complex. However, its exact role within the replicase complex is still not clear.
PMCID: PMC1563791  PMID: 16873246
25.  Nonstructural Proteins 7 and 8 of Feline Coronavirus Form a 2:1 Heterotrimer That Exhibits Primer-Independent RNA Polymerase Activity 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(8):4444-4454.
Nonstructural proteins 7 and 8 of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) have previously been shown by X-ray crystallography to form an 8:8 hexadecamer. In addition, it has been demonstrated that N-terminally His6-tagged SARS-CoV Nsp8 is a primase able to synthesize RNA oligonucleotides with a length of up to 6 nucleotides. We present here the 2.6-Å crystal structure of the feline coronavirus (FCoV) Nsp7:Nsp8 complex, which is a 2:1 heterotrimer containing two copies of the α-helical Nsp7 with conformational differences between them, and one copy of Nsp8 that consists of an α/β domain and a long-α-helix domain. The same stoichiometry is found for the Nsp7:Nsp8 complex in solution, as demonstrated by chemical cross-linking, size exclusion chromatography, and small-angle X-ray scattering. Furthermore, we show that FCoV Nsp8, like its SARS-CoV counterpart, is able to synthesize short oligoribonucleotides of up to 6 nucleotides in length when carrying an N-terminal His6 tag. Remarkably, the same protein harboring the sequence GPLG instead of the His6 tag at its N terminus exhibits a substantially increased, primer-independent RNA polymerase activity. Upon addition of Nsp7, the RNA polymerase activity is further enhanced so that RNA up to template length (67 nucleotides) can be synthesized. Further, we show that the unprocessed intermediate polyprotein Nsp7-10 of human coronavirus (HCoV) 229E is also capable of synthesizing oligoribonucleotides up to a chain length of six. These results indicate that in case of FCoV as well as of HCoV 229E, the formation of a hexadecameric Nsp7:Nsp8 complex is not necessary for RNA polymerase activity. Further, the FCoV Nsp7:Nsp8 complex functions as a noncanonical RNA polymerase capable of synthesizing RNA of up to template length.
PMCID: PMC3318631  PMID: 22318142

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