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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

9 Sep

A public antibody class recognizes an S2 epitope exposed on open conformations of SARS-CoV-2 spike (Nature Communications)

Delineating the origins and properties of antibodies elicited by SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination is critical for understanding their benefits and potential shortcomings. Therefore, we investigate the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S)-reactive B cell repertoire in unexposed individuals by flow cytometry and single-cell sequencing. We show that similar to 82% of SARS-CoV-2 S-reactive B cells harbor a naive phenotype, which represents an unusually high fraction of total human naive B cells (similar to 0.1%). Approximately 10% of these naive S-reactive B cells share an IGHV1-69/IGKV3-11 B cell receptor pairing, an enrichment of 18-fold compared to the complete naive repertoire. Following SARS-CoV-2 infection, we report an average 37-fold enrichment of IGHV1-69/IGKV3-11 B cell receptor pairing in the S-reactive memory B cells compared to the unselected memory repertoire. This class of B cells targets a previously undefined non-neutralizing epitope on the S2 subunit that becomes exposed on S proteins used in approved vaccines when they transition away from the native pre-fusion state because of instability. These findings can help guide the improvement of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

To fully understand the potential shortcomings of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination, it is necessary to delineate the properties of the antibodies elicited, during immunization, and also infection. Through investigation of the SARS-CoV-2 spike-reactive B cell repertoire, authors identify following infection, a subset of B cells enriched and almost exclusively target a non-neutralizing S2 epitope present in aberrant forms.

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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.


9 Sep

Cross-validation of distance measurements in proteins by PELDOR/DEER and single-molecule FRET (Nature Communications)

Pulsed electron-electron double resonance spectroscopy (PELDOR/DEER) and single-molecule Forster resonance energy transfer spectroscopy (smFRET) are frequently used to determine conformational changes, structural heterogeneity, and inter probe distances in biological macromolecules. They provide qualitative information that facilitates mechanistic understanding of biochemical processes and quantitative data for structural modelling. To provide a comprehensive comparison of the accuracy of PELDOR/DEER and smFRET, we use a library of double cysteine variants of four proteins that undergo large-scale conformational changes upon ligand binding. With either method, we use established standard experimental protocols and data analysis routines to determine inter-probe distances in the presence and absence of ligands. The results are compared to distance predictions from structural models. Despite an overall satisfying and similar distance accuracy, some inconsistencies are identified, which we attribute to the use of cryoprotectants for PELDOR/DEER and label-protein interactions for smFRET. This large-scale cross-validation of PELDOR/DEER and smFRET highlights the strengths, weaknesses, and synergies of these two important and complementary tools in integrative structural biology.

Pulsed electron-electron double resonance spectroscopy (PELDOR/DEER) and single-molecule Forster resonance energy transfer spectroscopy (smFRET) are used to determine conformational changes and probe distances in biological macromolecules. Here the authors compare the methods on a large set of samples.

9 Sep

Structural basis for shape-selective recognition and aminoacylation of a D-armless human mitochondrial tRNA (Nature Communications)

Mitochondrial tRNAs are indispensable and yet underwent an extreme mutational erosion. The authors report the structures of a mitochondrial aaRS-tRNA complex and show how the most degenerated of all human mtRNAs is recognized by its cognate synthetase to maintain mitochondrial gene expression. Human mitochondrial gene expression relies on the specific recognition and aminoacylation of mitochondrial tRNAs (mtRNAs) by nuclear-encoded mitochondrial aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (mt-aaRSs). Despite their essential role in cellular energy homeostasis, strong mutation pressure and genetic drift have led to an unparalleled sequence erosion of animal mtRNAs. The structural and functional consequences of this erosion are not understood. Here, we present cryo-EM structures of the human mitochondrial seryl-tRNA synthetase (mSerRS) in complex with mtRNA(Ser(GCU)). These structures reveal a unique mechanism of substrate recognition and aminoacylation. The mtRNA(Ser(GCU)) is highly degenerated, having lost the entire D-arm, tertiary core, and stable L-shaped fold that define canonical tRNAs. Instead, mtRNA(Ser(GCU)) evolved unique structural innovations, including a radically altered T-arm topology that serves as critical identity determinant in an unusual shape-selective readout mechanism by mSerRS. Our results provide a molecular framework to understand the principles of mito-nuclear co-evolution and specialized mechanisms of tRNA recognition in mammalian mitochondrial gene expression.

9 Sep

Organizing structural principles of the IL-17 ligand-receptor axis (Nature)

The IL-17 family of cytokines and receptors have central roles in host defence against infection and development of inflammatory diseases. The compositions and structures of functional IL-17 family ligand-receptor signalling assemblies remain unclear. IL-17E (also known as IL-25) is a key regulator of type 2 immune responses and driver of inflammatory diseases, such as allergic asthma, and requires both IL-17 receptor A (IL-17RA) and IL-17RB to elicit functional responses. Here we studied IL-25-IL-17RB binary and IL-25-IL-17RB-IL-17RA ternary complexes using a combination of cryo-electron microscopy, single-molecule imaging and cell-based signalling approaches. The IL-25-IL-17RB-IL-17RA ternary signalling assembly is a C2-symmetric complex in which the IL-25-IL-17RB homodimer is flanked by two 'wing-like' IL-17RA co-receptorsth rough a 'tip-to-tip' geometry that is the key receptor-receptor interaction required for initiation of signal transduction. IL-25 interacts solely with IL-17RB to allosterically promote the formation of the IL-17RB-IL-17RA tip-to-tip interface. The resulting large separation between the receptors at the membrane-proximal level may reflect proximity constraints imposed by the intracellular domains for signalling. Cryo-electron microscopy structures of IL-17A-IL-17RA and IL-17A-IL-17RA-IL-17RC complexes reveal that this tip-to-tip architecture is a key organizing principle of the IL-17 receptor family. Furthermore, these studies reveal dual actions for IL-17RA sharing among IL-17 cytokine complexes, by either directly engaging IL-17 cytokines or alternatively functioning as a co-receptor.

9 Sep

Selective TnsC recruitment enhances the fidelity of RNA-guided transposition (Nature)

Bacterial transposons are pervasive mobile genetic elements that use distinct DNA-binding proteins for horizontal transmission. For example, Escherichia coli Tn7 homes to a specific attachment site using TnsD(1), whereas CRISPR-associated transposons use type I or type V Cas effectors to insert downstream of target sites specified by guide RNAs2,3. Despite this targeting diversity, transposition invariably requires TnsB, a DDE-family transposase that catalyses DNA excision and insertion, and TnsC, a AAA+ ATPase that is thought to communicate between transposase and targeting proteins(4). How TnsC mediates this communication and thereby regulates transposition fidelity has remained unclear. Here we use chromatin immunoprecipitation with sequencing to monitor in vivo formation of the type I-F RNA-guided transpososome, enabling us to resolve distinct protein recruitment events before integration. DNA targeting by the TniQ-Cascade complex is surprisingly promiscuous-hundreds of genomic off-target sites are sampled, but only a subset of those sites is licensed for TnsC and TnsB recruitment, revealing a crucial proofreading checkpoint. To advance the mechanistic understanding of interactions responsible for transpososome assembly, we determined structures of TnsC using cryogenic electron microscopy and found that ATP binding drives the formation of heptameric rings that thread DNA through the central pore, thereby positioning the substrate for downstream integration. Collectively, our results highlight the molecular specificity imparted by consecutive factor binding to genomic target sites during RNA-guided transposition, and provide a structural roadmap to guide future engineering efforts.

Reader’s Corner Archive

Quote of October

“Facts are the air of scientists. Without them you can never fly.”

Linus Pauling

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