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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

19 Feb 2021

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 2021

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.

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Reader's Corner Archive

13 Jul 2020

Structural basis of the activation of a metabotropic GABA receptor

Metabotropic gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors (GABA(B)) are involved in the modulation of synaptic responses in the central nervous system and have been implicated in neuropsychological conditions that range from addiction to psychosis. GABA(B)belongs to class C of the G-protein-coupled receptors, and its functional entity comprises an obligate heterodimer that is composed of the GB1 and GB2 subunits. Each subunit possesses an extracellular Venus flytrap domain, which is connected to a canonical seven-transmembrane domain. In the Nature paper Gati and Cherezov present four cryo-electron microscopy structures of the human full-length GB1-GB2 heterodimer: one structure of its inactive apo state, two intermediate agonist-bound forms and an active form in which the heterodimer is bound to an agonist and a positive allosteric modulator. The structures reveal substantial differences, which shed light on the complex motions that underlie the unique activation mechanism of GABA(B). Their results show that agonist binding leads to the closure of the Venus flytrap domain of GB1, triggering a series of transitions, first rearranging and bringing the two transmembrane domains into close contact along transmembrane helix 6 and ultimately inducing conformational rearrangements in the GB2 transmembrane domain via a lever-like mechanism to initiate downstream signalling. This active state is stabilized by a positive allosteric modulator binding at the transmembrane dimerization interface. 

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