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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

22 Mar

Structure of the human DICER–pre-miRNA complex in a dicing state (Nature)

Dicer has a key role in small RNA biogenesis, processing double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). Human DICER (hDICER, also known as DICER1) is specialized for cleaving small hairpin structures such as precursor microRNAs (pre-miRNAs) and has limited activity towards long dsRNAs—unlike its homologues in lower eukaryotes and plants, which cleave long dsRNAs. Although the mechanism by which long dsRNAs are cleaved has been well documented, our understanding of pre-miRNA processing is incomplete because structures of hDICER in a catalytic state are lacking. Here we report the cryo-electron microscopy structure of hDICER bound to pre-miRNA in a dicing state and uncover the structural basis of pre-miRNA processing. hDICER undergoes large conformational changes to attain the active state. The helicase domain becomes flexible, which allows the binding of pre-miRNA to the catalytic valley. The double-stranded RNA-binding domain relocates and anchors pre-miRNA in a specific position through both sequence-independent and sequence-specific recognition of the newly identified ‘GYM motif’. The DICER-specific PAZ helix is also reoriented to accommodate the RNA. Furthermore, our structure identifies a configuration of the 5′ end of pre-miRNA inserted into a basic pocket. In this pocket, a group of arginine residues recognize the 5′ terminal base (disfavouring guanine) and terminal monophosphate; this explains the specificity of hDICER and how it determines the cleavage site. We identify cancer-associated mutations in the 5′ pocket residues that impair miRNA biogenesis. Our study reveals how hDICER recognizes pre-miRNAs with stringent specificity and enables a mechanistic understanding of hDICER-related diseases.

22 Mar

Structure of the lysosomal mTORC1–TFEB–Rag–Ragulator megacomplex (Nature)

The transcription factor TFEB is a master regulator of lysosomal biogenesis and autophagy. The phosphorylation of TFEB by the mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) is unique in its mTORC1 substrate recruitment mechanism, which is strictly dependent on the amino acid-mediated activation of the RagC GTPase activating protein FLCN. TFEB lacks the TOR signalling motif responsible for the recruitment of other mTORC1 substrates. We used cryogenic-electron microscopy to determine the structure of TFEB as presented to mTORC1 for phosphorylation, which we refer to as the ‘megacomplex’. Two full Rag–Ragulator complexes present each molecule of TFEB to the mTOR active site. One Rag–Ragulator complex is bound to Raptor in the canonical mode seen previously in the absence of TFEB. A second Rag–Ragulator complex (non-canonical) docks onto the first through a RagC GDP-dependent contact with the second Ragulator complex. The non-canonical Rag dimer binds the first helix of TFEB with a RagCGDP-dependent aspartate clamp in the cleft between the Rag G domains. In cellulo mutation of the clamp drives TFEB constitutively into the nucleus while having no effect on mTORC1 localization. The remainder of the 108-amino acid TFEB docking domain winds around Raptor and then back to RagA. The double use of RagC GDP contacts in both Rag dimers explains the strong dependence of TFEB phosphorylation on FLCN and the RagC GDP state.

9 Feb

Structure-based design of bitopic ligands for the mu-opioid receptor (Nature)

Mu-opioid receptor (µOR) agonists such as fentanyl have long been used for pain management, but are considered a major public health concern owing to their adverse side effects, including lethal overdose. Here, in an effort to design safer therapeutic agents, we report an approach targeting a conserved sodium ion-binding site found in µOR and many other class A G-protein-coupled receptors with bitopic fentanyl derivatives that are functionalized via a linker with a positively charged guanidino group. Cryo-electron microscopy structures of the most potent bitopic ligands in complex with µOR highlight the key interactions between the guanidine of the ligands and the key Asp2.50 residue in the Na+site. Two bitopics (C5 and C6 guano) maintain nanomolar potency and high efficacy at Gisubtypes and show strongly reduced arrestin recruitment—one (C6 guano) also shows the lowest Gz efficacy among the panel of µOR agonists, including partial and biased morphinan and fentanyl analogues. In mice, C6 guano displayed µOR-dependent antinociception with attenuated adverse effects, supporting the µOR sodium ion-binding site as a potential target for the design of safer analgesics. In general, our study suggests that bitopic ligands that engage the sodium ion-binding pocket in class A G-protein-coupled receptors can be designed to control their efficacy and functional selectivity profiles for Gi, Go and Gz subtypes and arrestins, thus modulating their in vivo pharmacology.

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