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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.  Biochemical and Structural Insights into the Mechanisms of SARS Coronavirus RNA Ribose 2′-O-Methylation by nsp16/nsp10 Protein Complex 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002294.
The 5′-cap structure is a distinct feature of eukaryotic mRNAs, and eukaryotic viruses generally modify the 5′-end of viral RNAs to mimic cellular mRNA structure, which is important for RNA stability, protein translation and viral immune escape. SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) encodes two S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM)-dependent methyltransferases (MTase) which sequentially methylate the RNA cap at guanosine-N7 and ribose 2′-O positions, catalyzed by nsp14 N7-MTase and nsp16 2′-O-MTase, respectively. A unique feature for SARS-CoV is that nsp16 requires non-structural protein nsp10 as a stimulatory factor to execute its MTase activity. Here we report the biochemical characterization of SARS-CoV 2′-O-MTase and the crystal structure of nsp16/nsp10 complex bound with methyl donor SAM. We found that SARS-CoV nsp16 MTase methylated m7GpppA-RNA but not m7GpppG-RNA, which is in contrast with nsp14 MTase that functions in a sequence-independent manner. We demonstrated that nsp10 is required for nsp16 to bind both m7GpppA-RNA substrate and SAM cofactor. Structural analysis revealed that nsp16 possesses the canonical scaffold of MTase and associates with nsp10 at 1∶1 ratio. The structure of the nsp16/nsp10 interaction interface shows that nsp10 may stabilize the SAM-binding pocket and extend the substrate RNA-binding groove of nsp16, consistent with the findings in biochemical assays. These results suggest that nsp16/nsp10 interface may represent a better drug target than the viral MTase active site for developing highly specific anti-coronavirus drugs.
Author Summary
The distinctive feature of eukaryotic mRNAs is the presence of methylated cap structure that is required for mRNA stability and protein translation. As all viruses employ cellular ribosomes for protein translation, most cytoplasmically replicating eukaryotic viruses including coronaviruses have evolved strategies to cap their RNAs. It was shown very recently that ribose 2′-O-methylation in the cap structure of viral RNAs plays an important role in viral escape from innate immune recognition. The 2′-O-methyltransferase (2′-O-MTase) encoded by SARS coronavirus is composed of two subunits, the catalytic subunit nsp16 and the stimulatory subunit nsp10, which is different from all other known 2′-O-MTases that are partner-independent. Here we show that the role of nsp10 is to promote nsp16 to bind capped RNA substrate and the methyl donor S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM). We solved the crystal structure of the nsp16/nsp10/SAM complex, and the structural analysis revealed that the details of the inter-molecular interactions and indicated that nsp10 may stabilize the SAM-binding pocket and extend the capped RNA-binding groove. The interaction interface of nsp16/nsp10 is unique for coronaviruses and thus may provide an attractive target for developing specific antiviral drugs for control of coronaviruses including the deadly SARS coronavirus.
PMCID: PMC3192843  PMID: 22022266
4.  Human Monoclonal Antibody Combination against SARS Coronavirus: Synergy and Coverage of Escape Mutants 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e237.
Experimental animal data show that protection against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) infection with human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) is feasible. For an effective immune prophylaxis in humans, broad coverage of different strains of SARS-CoV and control of potential neutralization escape variants will be required. Combinations of virus-neutralizing, noncompeting mAbs may have these properties.
Methods and Findings
Human mAb CR3014 has been shown to completely prevent lung pathology and abolish pharyngeal shedding of SARS-CoV in infected ferrets. We generated in vitro SARS-CoV variants escaping neutralization by CR3014, which all had a single P462L mutation in the glycoprotein spike (S) of the escape virus. In vitro experiments confirmed that binding of CR3014 to a recombinant S fragment (amino acid residues 318–510) harboring this mutation was abolished. We therefore screened an antibody-phage library derived from blood of a convalescent SARS patient for antibodies complementary to CR3014. A novel mAb, CR3022, was identified that neutralized CR3014 escape viruses, did not compete with CR3014 for binding to recombinant S1 fragments, and bound to S1 fragments derived from the civet cat SARS-CoV-like strain SZ3. No escape variants could be generated with CR3022. The mixture of both mAbs showed neutralization of SARS-CoV in a synergistic fashion by recognizing different epitopes on the receptor-binding domain. Dose reduction indices of 4.5 and 20.5 were observed for CR3014 and CR3022, respectively, at 100% neutralization. Because enhancement of SARS-CoV infection by subneutralizing antibody concentrations is of concern, we show here that anti-SARS-CoV antibodies do not convert the abortive infection of primary human macrophages by SARS-CoV into a productive one.
The combination of two noncompeting human mAbs CR3014 and CR3022 potentially controls immune escape and extends the breadth of protection. At the same time, synergy between CR3014 and CR3022 may allow for a lower total antibody dose to be administered for passive immune prophylaxis of SARS-CoV infection.
Editors' Summary
Late in 2002, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged in the Guangdong province of China. In February 2003, an infected doctor from the province carried this new viral threat to human health to Hong Kong. Here, people staying in the same hotel caught the disease and took it to other countries. SARS was on the move, hitching lifts with international travellers. Because the virus responsible for SARS—SARS-CoV—spread by close person-to-person contact and killed 10% of the people it infected, health experts feared a world-wide epidemic. This was avoided by the World Health Organization issuing a global alert and warning against unnecessary travel to affected areas and by public-health officials isolating patients and their close contacts. By July 2003, the first SARS epidemic was over. 8,098 people had been infected; 774 people had died. Since then, sporadic cases of SARS have been contained locally.
Why Was This Study Done?
The first epidemic of SARS was caused by an animal virus that became adapted to spread between people. There is no reason this process won't be repeated. If it is, stringent quarantine measures could again prevent a global epidemic, but at considerable economic cost. What is needed is a way to prevent SARS developing in healthy people who have been exposed to SARS-CoV and to treat sick people so that they are less infectious and can fight the virus. In this study, researchers have been investigating “passive immunization” as a way to limit SARS epidemics. In passive immunization, short-term protection against illness is achieved by injecting antibodies—proteins that recognize specific molecules (called antigens) on foreign organisms such as bacteria and viruses and prevent those organisms from causing disease. Antibodies for passive immunization can be isolated from blood taken from people who have had SARS, or they can be manufactured as so-called “human monoclonal antibodies” in a laboratory. One of these human monoclonal antibodies—CR3014—had been previously made and shown to prevent lung damage in ferrets infected with SARS-CoV and to stop the infected animals from infecting others. But for effective disease prevention in people, a single monoclonal antibody might not be enough. There are strains of SARS-CoV that CR3014 does not recognize and therefore cannot act against. Also, the virus can alter the antigen recognized by CR3014 when it is grown at a low antibody concentration, producing so-called escape variants; if this happens CR3014 can no longer prevent these escape variants from killing human cells.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers tested how well a combination of two monoclonal antibodies controlled SARS-CoV killing of human cells. First, they showed that CR3014 escape variants all had the same small change in a part of the virus surface that interacts with human cells. CR3014 blocked this interaction in the parent SARS-CoV strain but not in the escape variants. They then made a new monoclonal antibody—CR3022—that prevented both the parent SARS-CoV stain and the CR3014 escape viruses from killing human cells. The two antibodies bound to neighboring parts of the virus surface, and both of them could bind at the same time. CR3022 also bound to surfaces of SARS-CoV strains to which CR3014 does not bind. And when they tried, the researchers could not generate any viral escape variants to which CR3022 was unable to bind. Finally, the effect of the two antibodies together on inhibition of SARS-CoV killing of human cells was more than the sum of their individual effects.
What Do These Findings Mean?
A combination of two (or more) human monoclonal antibodies that recognize different parts of the SARS-CoV surface that interacts with human cells might be a good way to immunize people passively against SARS-CoV. It might minimize the possibility of escape variants arising, broaden the range of virus strains against which protection is provided, and reduce the amount of antibody needed for effective protection. Before the approach is tried in people, it will have to be tested in animals—results from experiments done on human cells in dishes are not always replicated in whole animals or people. If the approach passes further tests, the hope is that passive immunization of people with SARS and their close contacts might reduce disease severity in infected people and reduce viral spread as effectively as dramatic quarantine measures
Additional Information.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
• Medline Plus pages on SARS
• US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on SARS
• US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases factsheet about research on SARS
• Wikipedia page on SARS and monoclonal antibodies (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
Two human monoclonal antibodies that bind to different parts of the viral glycoprotein spike show synergistic effects in virus neutralization and suppress the emergence of resistant virus in vitro.
PMCID: PMC1483912  PMID: 16796401
5.  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
6.  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
7.  Multiple Enzymatic Activities Associated with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Helicase 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(11):5619-5632.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), a newly identified group 2 coronavirus, is the causative agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome, a life-threatening form of pneumonia in humans. Coronavirus replication and transcription are highly specialized processes of cytoplasmic RNA synthesis that localize to virus-induced membrane structures and were recently proposed to involve a complex enzymatic machinery that, besides RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, helicase, and protease activities, also involves a series of RNA-processing enzymes that are not found in most other RNA virus families. Here, we characterized the enzymatic activities of a recombinant form of the SARS-CoV helicase (nonstructural protein [nsp] 13), a superfamily 1 helicase with an N-terminal zinc-binding domain. We report that nsp13 has both RNA and DNA duplex-unwinding activities. SARS-CoV nsp13 unwinds its substrates in a 5′-to-3′ direction and features a remarkable processivity, allowing efficient strand separation of extended regions of double-stranded RNA and DNA. Characterization of the nsp13-associated (deoxy)nucleoside triphosphatase ([dNTPase) activities revealed that all natural nucleotides and deoxynucleotides are substrates of nsp13, with ATP, dATP, and GTP being hydrolyzed slightly more efficiently than other nucleotides. Furthermore, we established an RNA 5′-triphosphatase activity for the SARS-CoV nsp13 helicase which may be involved in the formation of the 5′ cap structure of viral RNAs. The data suggest that the (d)NTPase and RNA 5′-triphosphatase activities of nsp13 have a common active site. Finally, we established that, in SARS-CoV-infected Vero E6 cells, nsp13 localizes to membranes that appear to be derived from the endoplasmic reticulum and are the likely site of SARS-CoV RNA synthesis.
PMCID: PMC415832  PMID: 15140959
8.  Identification of Diverse Alphacoronaviruses and Genomic Characterization of a Novel Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Like Coronavirus from Bats in China 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(12):7070-7082.
Although many severe acute respiratory syndrome-like coronaviruses (SARS-like CoVs) have been identified in bats in China, Europe, and Africa, most have a genetic organization significantly distinct from human/civet SARS CoVs in the receptor-binding domain (RBD), which mediates receptor binding and determines the host spectrum, resulting in their failure to cause human infections and making them unlikely progenitors of human/civet SARS CoVs. Here, a viral metagenomic analysis of 268 bat rectal swabs collected from four counties in Yunnan Province has identified hundreds of sequences relating to alpha- and betacoronaviruses. Phylogenetic analysis based on a conserved region of the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase gene revealed that alphacoronaviruses had diversities with some obvious differences from those reported previously. Full genomic analysis of a new SARS-like CoV from Baoshan (LYRa11) showed that it was 29,805 nucleotides (nt) in length with 13 open reading frames (ORFs), sharing 91% nucleotide identity with human/civet SARS CoVs and the most recently reported SARS-like CoV Rs3367, while sharing 89% with other bat SARS-like CoVs. Notably, it showed the highest sequence identity with the S gene of SARS CoVs and Rs3367, especially in the RBD region. Antigenic analysis showed that the S1 domain of LYRa11 could be efficiently recognized by SARS-convalescent human serum, indicating that LYRa11 is a novel virus antigenically close to SARS CoV. Recombination analyses indicate that LYRa11 is likely a recombinant descended from parental lineages that had evolved into a number of bat SARS-like CoVs.
IMPORTANCE Although many severe acute respiratory syndrome-like coronaviruses (SARS-like CoVs) have been discovered in bats worldwide, there are significant different genic structures, particularly in the S1 domain, which are responsible for host tropism determination, between bat SARS-like CoVs and human SARS CoVs, indicating that most reported bat SARS-like CoVs are not the progenitors of human SARS CoV. We have identified diverse alphacoronaviruses and a close relative (LYRa11) to SARS CoV in bats collected in Yunnan, China. Further analysis showed that alpha- and betacoronaviruses have different circulation and transmission dynamics in bat populations. Notably, full genomic sequencing and antigenic study demonstrated that LYRa11 is phylogenetically and antigenically closely related to SARS CoV. Recombination analyses indicate that LYRa11 is a recombinant from certain bat SARS-like CoVs circulating in Yunnan Province.
PMCID: PMC4054348  PMID: 24719429
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  SARS-Coronavirus Replication/Transcription Complexes Are Membrane-Protected and Need a Host Factor for Activity In Vitro 
PLoS Pathogens  2008;4(5):e1000054.
SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) replication and transcription are mediated by a replication/transcription complex (RTC) of which virus-encoded, non-structural proteins (nsps) are the primary constituents. The 16 SARS-CoV nsps are produced by autoprocessing of two large precursor polyproteins. The RTC is believed to be associated with characteristic virus-induced double-membrane structures in the cytoplasm of SARS-CoV-infected cells. To investigate the link between these structures and viral RNA synthesis, and to dissect RTC organization and function, we isolated active RTCs from infected cells and used them to develop the first robust assay for their in vitro activity. The synthesis of genomic RNA and all eight subgenomic mRNAs was faithfully reproduced by the RTC in this in vitro system. Mainly positive-strand RNAs were synthesized and protein synthesis was not required for RTC activity in vitro. All RTC activity, enzymatic and putative membrane-spanning nsps, and viral RNA cosedimented with heavy membrane structures. Furthermore, the pelleted RTC required the addition of a cytoplasmic host factor for reconstitution of its in vitro activity. Newly synthesized subgenomic RNA appeared to be released, while genomic RNA remained predominantly associated with the RTC-containing fraction. RTC activity was destroyed by detergent treatment, suggesting an important role for membranes. The RTC appeared to be protected by membranes, as newly synthesized viral RNA and several replicase/transcriptase subunits were protease- and nuclease-resistant and became susceptible to degradation only upon addition of a non-ionic detergent. Our data establish a vital functional dependence of SARS-CoV RNA synthesis on virus-induced membrane structures.
Author Summary
The SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which causes the life-threatening severe acute respiratory syndrome, replicates in the cytoplasm of infected host cells. A critical early step in the SARS-CoV life cycle is the formation of a replication/transcription complex (RTC) that drives viral genome replication and subgenomic mRNA synthesis. Virus-encoded enzymes form the core of this RTC, which is believed to be associated with characteristic virus-induced membrane structures derived from modified host cell membranes. To investigate the connection between these membrane structures and SARS-CoV RNA synthesis, and to characterize RTC composition and function, we isolated these complexes and developed the first in vitro assay to study their activity. SARS-CoV genomic RNA and all eight subgenomic mRNAs were synthesized in this in vitro reaction. By centrifugation, RTC activity could be isolated from the cytoplasm, together with membrane structures, viral enzymes, and RNA. The activity of these isolated RTCs was dependent on a cytoplasmic host factor. RTC activity was destroyed by detergent treatment, suggesting a critical role for membranes that appeared to protect the complex against protease and nuclease digestion. Our data establish a functional connection between viral RNA synthesis and intracellular membranes and show that host factors play a crucial role in SARS-CoV RNA synthesis.
PMCID: PMC2322833  PMID: 18451981
13.  The PDZ-Binding Motif of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Envelope Protein Is a Determinant of Viral Pathogenesis 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(8):e1004320.
A recombinant severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) lacking the envelope (E) protein is attenuated in vivo. Here we report that E protein PDZ-binding motif (PBM), a domain involved in protein-protein interactions, is a major determinant of virulence. Elimination of SARS-CoV E protein PBM by using reverse genetics caused a reduction in the deleterious exacerbation of the immune response triggered during infection with the parental virus and virus attenuation. Cellular protein syntenin was identified to bind the E protein PBM during SARS-CoV infection by using three complementary strategies, yeast two-hybrid, reciprocal coimmunoprecipitation and confocal microscopy assays. Syntenin redistributed from the nucleus to the cell cytoplasm during infection with viruses containing the E protein PBM, activating p38 MAPK and leading to the overexpression of inflammatory cytokines. Silencing of syntenin using siRNAs led to a decrease in p38 MAPK activation in SARS-CoV infected cells, further reinforcing their functional relationship. Active p38 MAPK was reduced in lungs of mice infected with SARS-CoVs lacking E protein PBM as compared with the parental virus, leading to a decreased expression of inflammatory cytokines and to virus attenuation. Interestingly, administration of a p38 MAPK inhibitor led to an increase in mice survival after infection with SARS-CoV, confirming the relevance of this pathway in SARS-CoV virulence. Therefore, the E protein PBM is a virulence domain that activates immunopathology most likely by using syntenin as a mediator of p38 MAPK induced inflammation.
Author Summary
SARS-CoV caused a worldwide epidemic infecting 8000 people with a mortality of about 10%. A recombinant SARS-CoV lacking the E protein was attenuated in vivo. The E protein contains a PDZ-binding motif (PBM), a domain potentially involved in the interaction with more than 400 cellular proteins, which highlights its relevance in modulating host-cell behavior. To analyze the contributions of this motif to virulence, recombinant viruses with or without E protein PBM were generated. Recombinant SARS-CoVs lacking E protein PBM caused minimal lung damage and were attenuated, in contrast to viruses containing this motif, indicating that E protein PBM is a virulence determinant. E protein PBM induces the deleterious exacerbated immune response triggered during SARS-CoV infection, and interacts with the cellular protein syntenin, as demonstrated using proteomic analyses. Interestingly, syntenin redistributed from nucleus to cytoplasm during SARS-CoV infection, activating p38 MAPK and triggering the overexpression of inflammatory cytokines. Furthermore, silencing of syntenin using siRNAs led to a decrease in p38 MAPK activation. In addition, administration of a p38 MAPK inhibitor led to an increase in mice survival after SARS-CoV infection. These results indicate that syntenin and p38 MAPK are potential therapeutic targets to reduce the exacerbated immune response during SARS-CoV infection.
PMCID: PMC4133396  PMID: 25122212
14.  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
15.  Assembly of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus RNA Packaging Signal into Virus-Like Particles Is Nucleocapsid Dependent 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(22):13848-13855.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) was recently identified as the etiology of SARS. The virus particle consists of four structural proteins: spike (S), small envelope (E), membrane (M), and nucleocapsid (N). Recognition of a specific sequence, termed the packaging signal (PS), by a virus N protein is often the first step in the assembly of viral RNA, but the molecular mechanisms involved in the assembly of SARS-CoV RNA are not clear. In this study, Vero E6 cells were cotransfected with plasmids encoding the four structural proteins of SARS-CoV. This generated virus-like particles (VLPs) of SARS-CoV that can be partially purified on a discontinuous sucrose gradient from the culture medium. The VLPs bearing all four of the structural proteins have a density of about 1.132 g/cm3. Western blot analysis of the culture medium from transfection experiments revealed that both E and M expressed alone could be released in sedimentable particles and that E and M proteins are likely to form VLPs when they are coexpressed. To examine the assembly of the viral genomic RNA, a plasmid representing the GFP-PS580 cDNA fragment encompassing the viral genomic RNA from nucleotides 19715 to 20294 inserted into the 3′ noncoding region of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) gene was constructed and applied to the cotransfection experiments with the four structural proteins. The SARS-CoV VLPs thus produced were designated VLP(GFP-PS580). Expression of GFP was detected in Vero E6 cells infected with the VLP(GFP-PS580), indicating that GFP-PS580 RNA can be assembled into the VLPs. Nevertheless, when Vero E6 cells were infected with VLPs produced in the absence of the viral N protein, no green fluorescence was visualized. These results indicate that N protein has an essential role in the packaging of SARS-CoV RNA. A filter binding assay and competition analysis further demonstrated that the N-terminal and C-terminal regions of the SARS-CoV N protein each contain a binding activity specific to the viral RNA. Deletions that presumably disrupt the structure of the N-terminal domain diminished its RNA-binding activity. The GFP-PS-containing SARS-CoV VLPs are powerful tools for investigating the tissue tropism and pathogenesis of SARS-CoV.
PMCID: PMC1280188  PMID: 16254320
16.  Structural Basis for the Ubiquitin-Linkage Specificity and deISGylating Activity of SARS-CoV Papain-Like Protease 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(5):e1004113.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) encodes a papain-like protease (PLpro) with both deubiquitinating (DUB) and deISGylating activities that are proposed to counteract the post-translational modification of signaling molecules that activate the innate immune response. Here we examine the structural basis for PLpro's ubiquitin chain and interferon stimulated gene 15 (ISG15) specificity. We present the X-ray crystal structure of PLpro in complex with ubiquitin-aldehyde and model the interaction of PLpro with other ubiquitin-chain and ISG15 substrates. We show that PLpro greatly prefers K48- to K63-linked ubiquitin chains, and ISG15-based substrates to those that are mono-ubiquitinated. We propose that PLpro's higher affinity for K48-linked ubiquitin chains and ISG15 stems from a bivalent mechanism of binding, where two ubiquitin-like domains prefer to bind in the palm domain of PLpro with the most distal ubiquitin domain interacting with a “ridge” region of the thumb domain. Mutagenesis of residues within this ridge region revealed that these mutants retain viral protease activity and the ability to catalyze hydrolysis of mono-ubiquitin. However, a select number of these mutants have a significantly reduced ability to hydrolyze the substrate ISG15-AMC, or be inhibited by K48-linked diubuiquitin. For these latter residues, we found that PLpro antagonism of the nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B-cells (NFκB) signaling pathway is abrogated. This identification of key and unique sites in PLpro required for recognition and processing of diubiquitin and ISG15 versus mono-ubiquitin and protease activity provides new insight into ubiquitin-chain and ISG15 recognition and highlights a role for PLpro DUB and deISGylase activity in antagonism of the innate immune response.
Author Summary
All coronaviruses such as the SARS virus and the recently identified Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus encode in their genomes at least one papain-like protease (PLpro) enzyme that has two distinct functions in viral pathogenesis. The first function is to process the viral polyprotein into individual proteins that are essential for viral replication. The second function is to remove ubiquitin and ISG15 proteins from host cell proteins, which likely helps coronaviruses short circuit the host's innate immune response. The 3-dimensional structure of SARS virus PLpro in complex with a human ubiquitin analog was determined and reveals how coronavirus PLpro enzymes strip ubiquitin and ISG15 from host cell proteins at the molecular level. A series of amino acid residues involved in interactions between PLpro and ubiquitin were mutated to identify which interactions are important only for the recognition of ubiquitin and ISG15 modified proteins by PLpro and not for recognition and cleaving of the viral polyprotein. The 3D structure of SARS PLpro with ubiquitin-aldehyde sheds significant new light into how PLpro interacts with ubiquitin-like molecules and provides a molecular road map for performing similar studies on other deadly coronaviruses such as MERS.
PMCID: PMC4031219  PMID: 24854014
17.  Amino Acids 270 to 510 of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Spike Protein Are Required for Interaction with Receptor 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(9):4552-4560.
A novel coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), has recently been identified as the causative agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). SARS-CoV appears similar to other coronaviruses in both virion structure and genome organization. It is known for other coronaviruses that the spike (S) glycoprotein is required for both viral attachment to permissive cells and for fusion of the viral envelope with the host cell membrane. Here we describe the construction and expression of a soluble codon-optimized SARS-CoV S glycoprotein comprising the first 1,190 amino acids of the native S glycoprotein (S1190). The codon-optimized and native S glycoproteins exhibit similar molecular weight as determined by Western blot analysis, indicating that synthetic S glycoprotein is modified correctly in a mammalian expression system. S1190 binds to the surface of Vero E6 cells, a cell permissive to infection, as demonstrated by fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis, suggesting that S1190 maintains the biologic activity present in native S glycoprotein. This interaction is blocked with serum obtained from recovering SARS patients, indicating that the binding is specific. In an effort to map the ligand-binding domain of the SARS-CoV S glycoprotein, carboxy- and amino-terminal truncations of the S1190 glycoprotein were constructed. Amino acids 270 to 510 were the minimal receptor-binding region of the SARS-CoV S glycoprotein as determined by flow cytometry. We speculate that amino acids 1 to 510 of the SARS-CoV S glycoprotein represent a unique domain containing the receptor-binding site (amino acids 270 to 510), analogous to the S1 subunit of other coronavirus S glycoproteins.
PMCID: PMC387703  PMID: 15078936
18.  SARS-Coronavirus Replication Is Supported by a Reticulovesicular Network of Modified Endoplasmic Reticulum 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(9):e226.
Positive-strand RNA viruses, a large group including human pathogens such as SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV), replicate in the cytoplasm of infected host cells. Their replication complexes are commonly associated with modified host cell membranes. Membrane structures supporting viral RNA synthesis range from distinct spherular membrane invaginations to more elaborate webs of packed membranes and vesicles. Generally, their ultrastructure, morphogenesis, and exact role in viral replication remain to be defined. Poorly characterized double-membrane vesicles (DMVs) were previously implicated in SARS-CoV RNA synthesis. We have now applied electron tomography of cryofixed infected cells for the three-dimensional imaging of coronavirus-induced membrane alterations at high resolution. Our analysis defines a unique reticulovesicular network of modified endoplasmic reticulum that integrates convoluted membranes, numerous interconnected DMVs (diameter 200–300 nm), and “vesicle packets” apparently arising from DMV merger. The convoluted membranes were most abundantly immunolabeled for viral replicase subunits. However, double-stranded RNA, presumably revealing the site of viral RNA synthesis, mainly localized to the DMV interior. Since we could not discern a connection between DMV interior and cytosol, our analysis raises several questions about the mechanism of DMV formation and the actual site of SARS-CoV RNA synthesis. Our data document the extensive virus-induced reorganization of host cell membranes into a network that is used to organize viral replication and possibly hide replicating RNA from antiviral defense mechanisms. Together with biochemical studies of the viral enzyme complex, our ultrastructural description of this “replication network” will aid to further dissect the early stages of the coronavirus life cycle and its virus-host interactions.
Author Summary
Viruses with a positive-stranded RNA genome replicate in the cytoplasm of infected host cells. Their replication is driven by a membrane-bound viral enzyme complex that is commonly associated with modified intracellular membranes. Little is understood about the formation and architecture of these replication structures and their exact role in viral RNA synthesis. We used electron microscopy and tomography for the three-dimensional imaging of the membrane alterations induced by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-coronavirus, a member of the virus group with the largest RNA genome known to date. Previously, coronaviruses were reported to induce large numbers of isolated “double-membrane vesicles” (DMVs). However, our present studies reveal an elaborate reticulovesicular network of modified endoplasmic reticulum membranes with which SARS-coronavirus replicative proteins are associated. The lumen of this unique membrane network contains numerous large (diameter 250–300 nm) “inner vesicles,” which were formerly thought to reside in isolated DMVs. Intriguingly, although the interior of these vesicles does not appear to be connected to the cytosol, it labels abundantly for double-stranded RNA, which presumably is present at the site of viral RNA synthesis. The ultrastructural dissection of this elaborate “replication network” shows how coronaviruses extensively reorganize the host cell's membrane infrastructure, to coordinate their replication cycle, and possibly also hide replicating RNA from antiviral defense mechanisms.
Positive-strand RNA virus replication is associated with membranes in the host cell's cytoplasm. Here, advanced 3D electron microscopy reveals that SARS-coronavirus induces an elaborate reticulovesicular network of modified ER membranes that supports viral RNA synthesis.
PMCID: PMC2535663  PMID: 18798692
19.  Comparative In Vivo Analysis of the Nsp15 Endoribonuclease of Murine, Porcine and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronaviruses 
Virus research  2012;167(2):247-258.
The purpose of this study was to compare the biochemical and biological properties of nonstructural protein (nsp) 15 among mouse hepatitis virus (MHV), severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV) in virus-infected and ectopically expressed cells. In virus-infected cells, MHV nsp15 distributed unevenly throughout the cytoplasm but predominantly in the perinuclear region. When expressed as N-terminal enhanced green fluorescence protein (EGFP) fusion, it predominantly formed speckles in the cytoplasm. In contrast, SARS-CoV and TGEV EGFP-nsp15s distributed smoothly in the whole cell and did not form speckles. Deletion mapping experiments identified two domains responsible for the speckle formation in MHV EGFP-nsp15: Domain I (aa101–150) and Domain III (aa301–374). Interestingly, Domain II (aa151–250) had an inhibitory effect on Domain III- but not Domain I-mediated speckle formation. Expression of a small (35aa) sequence in Domain III alone was sufficient to form speckles for all 3 viral nsp15s. However, addition of surrounding sequences in Domain III abolished the speckle formation for TGEV nsp15 but not for MHV and SARS-CoV nsp15s. Further domain swapping experiments uncovered additional speckle-inducing and -suppressive elements in nsp15s of SARS-CoV and TGEV. Homotypic interaction involving Domain III of MHV nsp15 was further demonstrated biochemically. Moreover, the biological functions of the expressed nsp15s were assessed in MHV-infected cells. It was found that the effects of EGFP-nsp15s on MHV replication were both virus species- and nsp15 domain-dependent. Collectively these results thus underscore the differential biochemical and biological functions among the nsp15s of MHV, TGEV and SARS-CoV in host cells.
PMCID: PMC3539826  PMID: 22617024
coronavirus; mouse hepatitis virus; SARS coronavirus; transmissible gastroenteritis virus; nonstructural protein 15
20.  Without Its N-Finger, the Main Protease of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Can Form a Novel Dimer through Its C-Terminal Domain▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(9):4227-4234.
The main protease (Mpro) of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) plays an essential role in the extensive proteolytic processing of the viral polyproteins (pp1a and pp1ab), and it is an important target for anti-SARS drug development. It was found that SARS-CoV Mpro exists in solution as an equilibrium of both monomeric and dimeric forms, and the dimeric form is the enzymatically active form. However, the mechanism of SARS-CoV Mpro dimerization, especially the roles of its N-terminal seven residues (N-finger) and its unique C-terminal domain in the dimerization, remain unclear. Here we report that the SARS-CoV Mpro C-terminal domain alone (residues 187 to 306; Mpro-C) is produced in Escherichia coli in both monomeric and dimeric forms, and no exchange could be observed between them at room temperature. The Mpro-C dimer has a novel dimerization interface. Meanwhile, the N-finger deletion mutant of SARS-CoV Mpro also exists as both a stable monomer and a stable dimer, and the dimer is formed through the same C-terminal-domain interaction as that in the Mpro-C dimer. However, no C-terminal domain-mediated dimerization form can be detected for wild-type SARS-CoV Mpro. Our study results help to clarify previously published controversial claims about the role of the N-finger in SARS-CoV Mpro dimerization. Apparently, without the N-finger, SARS-CoV Mpro can no longer retain the active dimer structure; instead, it can form a new type of dimer which is inactive. Therefore, the N-finger of SARS-CoV Mpro is not only critical for its dimerization but also essential for the enzyme to form the enzymatically active dimer.
PMCID: PMC2293041  PMID: 18305043
21.  Structural Analysis of Major Species Barriers between Humans and Palm Civets for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Infections▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(14):6984-6991.
It is believed that a novel coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), was passed from palm civets to humans and caused the epidemic of SARS in 2002 to 2003. The major species barriers between humans and civets for SARS-CoV infections are the specific interactions between a defined receptor-binding domain (RBD) on a viral spike protein and its host receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). In this study a chimeric ACE2 bearing the critical N-terminal helix from civet and the remaining peptidase domain from human was constructed, and it was shown that this construct has the same receptor activity as civet ACE2. In addition, crystal structures of the chimeric ACE2 complexed with RBDs from various human and civet SARS-CoV strains were determined. These structures, combined with a previously determined structure of human ACE2 complexed with the RBD from a human SARS-CoV strain, have revealed a structural basis for understanding the major species barriers between humans and civets for SARS-CoV infections. They show that the major species barriers are determined by interactions between four ACE2 residues (residues 31, 35, 38, and 353) and two RBD residues (residues 479 and 487), that early civet SARS-CoV isolates were prevented from infecting human cells due to imbalanced salt bridges at the hydrophobic virus/receptor interface, and that SARS-CoV has evolved to gain sustained infectivity for human cells by eliminating unfavorable free charges at the interface through stepwise mutations at positions 479 and 487. These results enhance our understanding of host adaptations and cross-species infections of SARS-CoV and other emerging animal viruses.
PMCID: PMC2446986  PMID: 18448527
22.  Molecular model of SARS coronavirus polymerase: implications for biochemical functions and drug design 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(24):7117-7130.
The causative agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a previously unidentified coronavirus, SARS-CoV. The RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) of SARS-CoV plays a pivotal role in viral replication and is a potential target for anti-SARS therapy. There is a lack of structural or biochemical data on any coronavirus polymerase. To provide insights into the structure and function of SARS-CoV RdRp, we have located its conserved motifs that are shared by all RdRps, and built a three-dimensional model of the catalytic domain. The structural model permits us to discuss the potential functional roles of the conserved motifs and residues in replication and their potential interactions with inhibitors of related enzymes. We predict important structural attributes of potential anti-SARS-CoV RdRp nucleotide analog inhibitors: hydrogen-bonding capability for the 2′ and 3′ groups of the sugar ring and C3′ endo sugar puckering, and the absence of a hydrophobic binding pocket for non-nucleoside analog inhibitors similar to those observed in hepatitis C virus RdRp and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 reverse transcriptase. We propose that the clinically observed resistance of SARS to ribavirin is probably due to perturbation of the conserved motif A that controls rNTP binding and fidelity of polymerization. Our results suggest that designing anti-SARS therapies can benefit from successful experiences in design of other antiviral drugs. This work should also provide guidance for future biochemical experiments.
PMCID: PMC291860  PMID: 14654687
23.  Neutralizing epitopes of the SARS-CoV S-protein cluster independent of repertoire, antigen structure or mAb technology 
mAbs  2010;2(1):53-66.
Neutralizing antibody responses to the surface glycoproteins of enveloped viruses play an important role in immunity. Many of these glycoproteins, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) spike (S) protein form trimeric units in the membrane of the native virion. There is substantial experimental and pre-clinical evidence showing that the S protein is a promising lead for vaccines and therapeutics. Previously we generated a panel of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) to whole inactivated SARS-CoV which neutralize the virus in vitro.1,2 Here, we define their specificity and affinity, map several of their epitopes and lastly characterise chimeric versions of them. Our data show that the neutralizing mAbs bind to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the SARS S protein. Three of the chimeric mAbs retain their binding specificity while one conformational mAb, F26G19, lost its ability to bind the S protein despite high level expression. The affinity for recombinant S is maintained in all of the functional chimeric versions of the parental mAbs. Both parental mAb F26G18 and the chimeric version neutralize the TOR2 strain of SARS-CoV with essentially identical titres (2.07 and 2.47 nM, respectively). Lastly, a comparison with other neutralizing mAbs to SARS-CoV clearly shows that the dominance of a 33 amino acid residue loop of the SARS-CoV RBD is independent of repertoire, species, quaternary structure, and importantly, the technology used to derive the mAbs. In cases like this, the dominance of a compact RBD antigenic domain and the central role of the S protein in pathogenesis may inherently create immunoselection pressure on viruses to evolve more complex evasion strategies or die out of a host species. The apparent simplicity of the mechanism of SARS-CoV neutralization is in stark contrast to the complexity shown by other enveloped viruses.
PMCID: PMC2828578  PMID: 20168090
SARS coronavirus; monoclonal antibody; neutralizing; epitope; immunochemistry
24.  The Papain-Like Protease of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Has Deubiquitinating Activity 
Journal of Virology  2005;79(24):15189-15198.
Replication of the genomic RNA of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is mediated by replicase polyproteins that are processed by two viral proteases, papain-like protease (PLpro) and 3C-like protease (3CLpro). Previously, we showed that SARS-CoV PLpro processes the replicase polyprotein at three conserved cleavage sites. Here, we report the identification and characterization of a 316-amino-acid catalytic core domain of PLpro that can efficiently cleave replicase substrates in trans-cleavage assays and peptide substrates in fluorescent resonance energy transfer-based protease assays. We performed bioinformatics analysis on 16 papain-like protease domains from nine different coronaviruses and identified a putative catalytic triad (Cys1651-His1812-Asp1826) and zinc-binding site. Mutagenesis studies revealed that Asp1826 and the four cysteine residues involved in zinc binding are essential for SARS-CoV PLpro activity. Molecular modeling of SARS-CoV PLpro suggested that this catalytic core may also have deubiquitinating activity. We tested this hypothesis by measuring the deubiquitinating activity of PLpro by two independent assays. SARS CoV-PLpro hydrolyzed both diubiquitin and ubiquitin-7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (AMC) substrates, and hydrolysis of ubiquitin-AMC is approximately 180-fold more efficient than hydrolysis of a peptide substrate that mimics the PLpro replicase recognition sequence. To investigate the critical determinants recognized by PLpro, we performed site-directed mutagenesis on the P6 to P2′ residues at each of the three PLpro cleavage sites. We found that PLpro recognizes the consensus cleavage sequence LXGG, which is also the consensus sequence recognized by cellular deubiquitinating enzymes. This similarity in the substrate recognition sites should be considered during the development of SARS-CoV PLpro inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC1316023  PMID: 16306590
25.  Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus nsp9 Dimerization Is Essential for Efficient Viral Growth▿  
Journal of Virology  2009;83(7):3007-3018.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) devotes a significant portion of its genome to producing nonstructural proteins required for viral replication. SARS-CoV nonstructural protein 9 (nsp9) was identified as an essential protein with RNA/DNA-binding activity, and yet its biological function within the replication complex remains unknown. Nsp9 forms a dimer through the interaction of parallel α-helices containing the protein-protein interaction motif GXXXG. In order to study the role of the nsp9 dimer in viral reproduction, residues G100 and G104 at the helix interface were targeted for mutation. Multi-angle light scattering measurements indicated that G100E, G104E, and G104V mutants are monomeric in solution, thereby disrupting the dimer. However, electrophoretic mobility assays revealed that the mutants bound RNA with similar affinity. Further experiments using fluorescence anisotropy showed a 10-fold reduction in RNA binding in the G100E and G104E mutants, whereas the G104V mutant had only a 4-fold reduction. The structure of G104E nsp9 was determined to 2.6-Å resolution, revealing significant changes at the dimer interface. The nsp9 mutations were introduced into SARS-CoV using a reverse genetics approach, and the G100E and G104E mutations were found to be lethal to the virus. The G104V mutant produced highly debilitated virus and eventually reverted back to the wild-type protein sequence through a codon transversion. Together, these data indicate that dimerization of SARS-CoV nsp9 at the GXXXG motif is not critical for RNA binding but is necessary for viral replication.
PMCID: PMC2655571  PMID: 19153232

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