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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

6 Oct 2022

Spatial- and Valence-Matched Neutralizing DNA Nanostructure Blocks Wild-Type SARS-CoV-2 and Omicron Variant Infection (ACS Nano)

Natural ligand–receptor interactions that play pivotal roles in biological events are ideal models for design and assembly of artificial recognition molecules. Herein, aiming at the structural characteristics of the spike trimer and infection mechanism of SARS-CoV-2, we have designed a DNA framework-guided spatial-patterned neutralizing aptamer trimer for SARS-CoV-2 neutralization. The ∼5.8 nm tetrahedral DNA framework affords precise spatial organization and matched valence as four neutralizing aptamers (MATCH-4), which matches with nanometer precision the topmost surface of SARS-CoV-2 spike trimer, enhancing the interaction between MATCH-4 and spike trimer. Moreover, the DNA framework provides a dimensionally complementary nanoscale barrier to prevent the spike trimer–ACE2 interaction and the conformational transition, thereby inhibiting SARS-CoV-2–host cell fusion and infection. As a result, the spatial- and valence-matched MATCH-4 ensures improved binding affinity and neutralizing activity against SARS-CoV-2 and its varied mutant strains, particularly the current Omicron variant, that are evasive of the majority of existing neutralizing antibodies. In addition, because neutralizing aptamers specific to other targets can be evolved and assembled, the present design has the potential to inhibit other wide-range and emerging pathogens.

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Reader's Corner Archive

31 Oct

Allosteric inactivation of an engineered optogenetic GTPase (PNAS)

Optogenetics is a technique for establishing direct spatiotemporal control over molecular function within living cells using light. Light application induces conformational changes within targeted proteins that produce changes in function. One of the applications of optogenetic tools is an allosteric control of proteins via light-sensing domain (LOV2), which allows direct and robust control of protein function. Computational studies supported by cellular imaging demonstrated that application of light allosterically inhibited signaling proteins Vav2, ITSN, and Rac1, but the structural and dynamic basis of such control has yet to be elucidated by experiment. Here, using NMR spectroscopy, we discover principles of action of allosteric control of cell division control protein 42 (CDC42), a small GTPase involved in cell signaling. Both LOV2 and Cdc42 employ flexibility in their function to switch between “dark”/“lit” or active/inactive states, respectively. By conjoining Cdc42 and phototropin1 LOV2 domains into the bi-switchable fusion Cdc42Lov, application of light—or alternatively, mutation in LOV2 to mimic light absorption—allosterically inhibits Cdc42 downstream signaling. The flow and patterning of allosteric transduction in this flexible system are well suited to observation by NMR. Close monitoring of the structural and dynamic properties of dark versus “lit” states of Cdc42Lov revealed lit-induced allosteric perturbations that extend to Cdc42’s downstream effector binding site. Chemical shift perturbations for lit mimic, I539E, have distinct regions of sensitivity, and both the domains are coupled together, leading to bidirectional interdomain signaling. Insights gained from this optoallosteric design will increase our ability to control response sensitivity in future designs.

10 Oct

Structure of LARP7 Protein p65–telomerase RNA Complex in Telomerase Revealed by Cryo-EM and NMR (Journal of Molecular Biology)

La-related protein 7 (LARP7) are a family of RNA chaperones that protect the 3′-end of RNA and are components of specific ribonucleoprotein complexes (RNP). In Tetrahymena thermophila telomerase, LARP7 protein p65 together with telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) and telomerase RNA (TER) form the core RNP. p65 has four known domains—N-terminal domain (NTD), La motif (LaM), RNA recognition motif 1 (RRM1), and C-terminal xRRM2. To date, only the xRRM2 and LaM and their interactions with TER have been structurally characterized. Conformational dynamics leading to low resolution in cryo-EM density maps have limited our understanding of how full-length p65 specifically recognizes and remodels TER for telomerase assembly. Here, we combined focused classification of Tetrahymena telomerase cryo-EM maps with NMR spectroscopy to determine the structure of p65–TER. Three previously unknown helices are identified, one in the otherwise intrinsically disordered NTD that binds the La module, one that extends RRM1, and another preceding xRRM2, that stabilize p65–TER interactions. The extended La module (αN, LaM and RRM1) interacts with the four 3′ terminal U nucleotides, while LaM and αN additionally interact with TER pseudoknot, and LaM with stem 1 and 5′ end. Our results reveal the extensive p65–TER interactions that promote TER 3′-end protection, TER folding, and core RNP assembly and stabilization. The structure of full-length p65 with TER also sheds light on the biological roles of genuine La and LARP7 proteins as RNA chaperones and core RNP components.

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