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News archive

Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

19 Feb

Proton-Coupled Conformational Activation of SARS Coronavirus Main Proteases and Opportunity for Designing Small-Molecule Broad-Spectrum Targeted Covalent Inhibitors (JACS)

The SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) main protease (Mpro) is an attractive broad-spectrum antiviral drug target. Despite the enormous progress in structureelucidation, the Mpro's structure-function relationship remains poorly understood. Recently, a peptidomimetic inhibitor has entered clinical trial; however, small-molecule orally available antiviral drugs have yet to be developed. Intrigued by a long-standing controversy regarding the existence of an inactive state, J. Shen et al. explored the proton-coupled dynamics of the Mpros of SARS-CoV-2 and the closely related SARS-CoV using a newly developed continuous constant pH molecular dynamics (MD) method and microsecond fixed-charge all-atom MD simulations. Their data supports a general base mechanism for Mpro's proteolytic function. The simulations revealed that protonation of His172 alters a conserved interaction network that upholds the oxyanion loop, leading to a partial collapse of the conserved S1 pocket, consistent with the first and controversial crystal structure of SARS-CoV Mpro determined at pH 6. Interestingly, a natural flavonoid binds SARS-CoV-2 Mpro in the close proximity to a conserved cysteine (Cys44), which is hyper-reactive according to the CpHMD titration. This finding offers an exciting new opportunity for small-molecule targeted covalent inhibitor design. Theirwork represents a first step toward the mechanistic understanding of the proton-coupled structure-dynamics-function relationship of CoV Mpros; the proposed strategy of designing small-molecule covalent inhibitors may help accelerate the development of orally available broad-spectrum antiviral drugs to stop the current pandemic and prevent future

19 Feb

The SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid phosphoprotein forms mutually exclusive condensates with RNA and the membrane-associated M protein (Nature Communications)

The multifunctional nucleocapsid (N) protein in SARS-CoV-2 binds the similar to 30kb viral RNA genome to aid its packaging into the 80-90nm membrane-enveloped virion. The N protein is composed of N-terminal RNA-binding and C-terminal dimerization domains that are flanked by three intrinsically disordered regions. Here D.W. Cleveland, K.D. Corbett  demonstrate that the N protein's central disordered domain drives phase separation with RNA, and that phosphorylation of an adjacent serine/arginine rich region modulates the physical properties of the resulting condensates. In cells, N forms condensates that recruit the stress granule protein G3BP1, highlighting a potential role for N in G3BP1 sequestration and stress granule inhibition. The SARS-CoV-2 membrane (M) protein independently induces N protein phase separation, and three-component mixtures of N+M+RNA form condensates with mutually exclusive compartments containing N+M or N+RNA, including annular structures in which the M protein coats the outside of an N+RNA condensate. These findings support a model in which phase separation of the SARS-CoV-2 N protein contributes both to suppression of the G3BP1-dependent host immune response and to packaging genomic RNA during virion assembly. The SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid (N) protein binds the viral RNA genome and contains two ordered domains flanked by three intrinsically-disordered regions. Here, the authors show that RNA binding induces liquid-liquid phase separation of N, which is driven by its central intrinsically-disordered region and is modulated by phosphorylation. The SARS-CoV-2 Membrane (M) protein also phase-separates with N, and three-component mixtures of N+M+RNA form mutually exclusive compartments containing N+M or N+RNA.

Coronavirus Archive

Research Highlights

the best of science obtained using CIISB Core Facilities

Science Advances 2021

Nature Index Journal

Structural changes in iflavirus particles that enable genome release of SBV, SBPV, and DWV. Native virions (A, F, and K), genome-containing particles at acidic pH (B, G, and L), open particles containing genomes (C, H, and M), open particles without genomes (D, I, and N), and empty capsids resulting from genome release (E, J, and O). Individual panels show cryo-EM reconstructions of particles rainbow colored on the basis of the distance of the particle surface from its center. (C), (H), and (N) show projection images of representative particles, since 3D reconstructions could not be calculated because of structural heterogeneity of the particles. Scale bar, 10 nm.

Pavel Plevka Research Group


The family Iflaviridae includes economically important viruses of the western honeybee such as deformed wing virus, slow bee paralysis virus, and sacbrood virus. Iflaviruses have nonenveloped virions and capsids organized with icosahedral symmetry. The genome release of iflaviruses can be induced in vitro by exposure to acidic pH, implying that they enter cells by endocytosis. Genome release intermediates of iflaviruses have not been structurally characterized. Here, P. Plevka show that conformational changes and expansion of iflavirus RNA genomes, which are induced by acidic pH, trigger the opening of iflavirus particles. Capsids of slow bee paralysis virus and sacbrood virus crack into pieces. In contrast, capsids of deformed wing virus are more flexible and open like flowers to re- lease their genomes. The large openings in iflavirus particles enable the fast exit of genomes from capsids, which decreases the probability of genome degradation by the RNases present in endosomes.

Škubník, K., Sukeník, L. Buchta, D., Füzik, T., Procházková, M., Moravcová, J., Šmerdová, L., Přidal, A.,Vácha, R., and Plevka, P.: Capsid opening enables genome release of iflaviruses, Sci. Adv. 2021, 7, eabd7130, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd7130

Nature Communications 2020

Nature Index Journal

Three states of HelD color-coded according to the domain structure

Libor Krásný and Jan Dohnálek Research Groups


RNA synthesis is central to life, and RNA polymerase (RNAP) depends on accessory factors for recovery from stalled states and adaptation to environmental changes. Here, T. Kouba, J. Dohnálek, L. Krásný the mechanism by which a helicase-like factor HelD recycles RNAP. They report a cryo-EM structure of a complex between the Mycobacterium smegmatis RNAP and HelD. The crescent-shaped HelD simultaneously penetrates deep into two RNAP channels that are responsible for nucleic acids binding and substrate delivery to the active site, thereby locking RNAP in an inactive state. They show that HelD prevents non-specific interactions between RNAP and DNA and dissociates stalled transcription elongation complexes. The liberated RNAP can either stay dormant, sequestered by HelD, or upon HelD release, restart transcription. Their results provide insights into the architecture and regulation of the highly medically-relevant mycobacterial transcription machinery and define HelD as a clearing factor that releases RNAP from nonfunctional complexes with nucleic acids.

Kouba, T., Koval’, T., Sudzinová, P., Pospíšil, J., Brezovská, B., Hnilicová, J., Šanderová, H., Janoušková, M., Šiková, M., Halada, P., Sýkora, M., Barvík, I., Nováček, J., Trundová, M.,  Dušková, J., Skálová, T., URee Chon, U.R., Murakami, K.S., Dohnálek, J., and Krásný, L.:  Mycobacterial HelD is a nucleic acids-clearing factor for RNA polymerase, Nature Comm. (2020) 11, 6419,

More publications Research Highlights archive

Reader’s Corner

literature to read, science to follow

In this section, a distinct selection of six highly stimulating research publications and reviews published during past 6 months is presented. It is our hope that links to exciting science, which deserves attention of the structural biology community, will help you to locate gems in the steadily expanding jungle of scientific literature. You are welcome to point out to any paper you found interesting by sending a link or citation to The section is being updated regularly.


19 Feb

Computational modeling of dynein motor proteins at work (Chem. Commun.)

Along with various experimental methods, a combination of theoretical and computational methods is essential to explore different length-scale and time-scale processes in the biological system. The functional mechanism of a dynein, an ATP-fueled motor protein, working in a multiprotein complex, involves a wide range of length/time-scale events. It generates mechanical force from chemical energy and moves on microtubules towards the minus end direction while performing a large number of biological processes including ciliary beating, intracellular material transport, and cell division. Like in the cases of other conventional motor proteins, a combination of experimental techniques including X-crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, and single molecular assay have provided a wealth of information about the mechanochemical cycle of a dynein. Dyneins have a large and complex structural architecture and therefore, computational modeling of different aspects of a dynein is extremely challenging. As the process of dynein movement involves varying length and timescales, it demands, like in experiments, a combination of computational methods covering such a wide range of processes for the comprehensive investigation of the mechanochemical cycle. In this review article, M. Dutta and B.Jama summarize how the use of state-of-the-art computational methods can provide a detailed molecular understanding of the mechanochemical cycle of the dynein. They implemented all-atom molecular dynamics simulations and hybrid quantum-mechanics/molecular-mechanics simulations to explore the ATP hydrolysis mechanisms at the primary ATPase site (AAA1) of dynein. To investigate the large-scale conformational changes They employed coarse-grained structure-based molecular dynamics simulations to capture the domain motions. Here they explored the conformational changes upon binding of ATP at AAA1, nucleotide state-dependent regulation of the mechanochemical cycle, and inter-head coordination by inter-head tension. Additionally, implementing a phenomenological theoretical model we explore the force-dependent detachment rate of a motorhead from the microtubule and the principle of multi-dynein cooperation during cargo transport.

19 Feb

Human species D adenovirus hexon capsid protein mediates cell entry through a direct interaction with CD46 (PNAS)

Human adenovirus species D (HAdV-D) types are currently being explored as vaccine vectors for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID- 19) and other severe infectious diseases. The efficacy of such vector-based vaccines depends on functional interactions with re- ceptors on host cells. Adenoviruses of different species are assumed to enter host cells mainly by interactions between the knob domain of the protruding fiber capsid protein and cellular receptors. Using a cell-based receptor-screening assay, N. Amberg identi- fied CD46 as a receptor for HAdV-D56. The function of CD46 was validated in infection experiments using cells lacking and overex- pressing CD46, and by competition infection experiments using soluble CD46. Remarkably, unlike HAdV-B types that engage CD46 through interactions with the knob domain of the fiber pro- tein, HAdV-D types infect host cells through a direct interaction between CD46 and the hexon protein. Soluble hexon proteins (but not fiber knob) inhibited HAdV-D56 infection, and surface plasmon analyses demonstrated that CD46 binds to HAdV-D hexon (but not fiber knob) proteins. Cryoelectron microscopy analysis of the HAdV-D56 virion–CD46 complex confirmed the interaction and showed that CD46 binds to the central cavity of hexon trimers. Fi- nally, soluble CD46 inhibited infection by 16 out of 17 investigated HAdV-D types, suggesting that CD46 is an important receptor for a large group of adenoviruses. In conclusion, this study identifies a noncanonical entry mechanism used by human adenoviruses, which adds to the knowledge of adenovirus biology and can also be useful for development of adenovirus-based vaccine vectors.

8 Feb

Characterizing proteins in a native bacterial environment using solid-state NMR spectroscopy (Nature Protocols)

For a long time, solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (ssNMR) has been employed to study complex biomolecular systems at the detailed chemical, structural, or dynamic level. Recent progress in high-resolution and high-sensitivity ssNMR, in combination with innovative sample preparation and labeling schemes, offers novel opportunities to study proteins in their native setting irrespective of the molecular tumbling rate. This protocol describes biochemical preparation schemes to obtain cellular samples of both soluble as well as insoluble or membrane-associated proteins in bacteria. To this end, the protocol is suitable for studying a protein of interest in both whole cells and in cell envelope or isolated membrane preparations. In the first stage of the procedure, an appropriate strain of Escherichia coli (DE3) is transformed with a plasmid of interest harboring the protein of interest under the control of an inducible T7 promoter. Next, the cells are adapted to grow in minimal (M9) medium. Before the growth enters stationary phase, protein expression is induced, and shortly thereafter, the native E. coli RNA polymerase is inhibited using rifampicin for targeted labeling of the protein of interest. The cells are harvested after expression and prepared for ssNMR rotor filling. In addition to conventional 13C/15N-detected ssNMR, we also outline how these preparations can be readily subjected to multidimensional ssNMR experiments using dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP) or proton (1H) detection schemes. M. Baldus et al. estimate that the entire preparative procedure until NMR experiments can be started takes 3–5 days.

Reader’s Corner Archive

Quote of February

“Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.”

Robert A. Heinlein

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