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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

13 Jan 2021

Papain-like protease regulates SARS-CoV-2 viral spread and innate immunity (Nature)

The papain-like protease PLpro is an essential coronavirus enzyme that is required for processing viral polyproteins to generate a functional replicase complex and enable viral spread. PLpro is also implicated in cleaving proteinaceous post-translational modifications on host proteins as an evasion mechanism against host antiviral immune responses. Here I. Dikic et. al.  perform biochemical, structural and functional characterization of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) PLpro (SCoV2-PLpro) and outline differences with SARS-CoV PLpro (SCoV-PLpro) in regulation of host interferon and NF-κB pathways. SCoV2-PLpro and SCoV-PLpro share 83% sequence identity but exhibit different host substrate preferences; SCoV2-PLpro preferentially cleaves the ubiquitin-like interferon-stimulated gene 15 protein (ISG15), whereas SCoV-PLpro predominantly targets ubiquitin chains. The crystal structure of SCoV2-PLpro in complex with ISG15 reveals distinctive interactions with the amino-terminal ubiquitin-like domain of ISG15, highlighting the high affinity and specificity of these interactions. Furthermore, upon infection, SCoV2-PLpro contributes to the cleavage of ISG15 from interferon responsive factor 3 (IRF3) and attenuates type I interferon responses. Notably, inhibition of SCoV2-PLpro with GRL-0617 impairs the virus-induced cytopathogenic effect, maintains the antiviral interferon pathway and reduces viral replication in infected cells. These results highlight a potential dual therapeutic strategy in which targeting of SCoV2-PLpro can suppress SARS-CoV-2 infection and promote antiviral immunity.

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Reader's Corner Archive

12 Jan 2021

Small-molecule inhibitors of human mitochondrial DNA transcription (Nature)

Altered expression of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) occurs in ageing and a range of human pathologies (for example, inborn errors of metabolism, neurodegeneration and cancer). Here Claes M. Gustafsson, Nils-Göran Larsson et. al. describe first-in-class specific inhibitors of mitochondrial transcription (IMTs) that target the human mitochondrial RNA polymerase (POLRMT), which is essential for biogenesis of the oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) system. The IMTs efficiently impair mtDNA transcription in a reconstituted recombinant system and cause a dose-dependent inhibition of mtDNA expression and OXPHOS in cell lines. To verify the cellular target, they performed exome sequencing of mutagenized cells and identified a cluster of amino acid substitutions in POLRMT that cause resistance to IMTs. They obtained a cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structure of POLRMT bound to an IMT, which further defined the allosteric binding site near the active centre cleft of POLRMT. The growth of cancer cells and the persistence of therapy-resistant cancer stem cells has previously been reported to depend on OXPHOS7-17, and they therefore investigated whether IMTs have anti-tumour effects. Four weeks of oral treatment with an IMT is well-tolerated in mice and does not cause OXPHOS dysfunction or toxicity in normal tissues, despite inducing a strong anti-tumour response in xenografts of human cancer cells. In summary, IMTs provide a potent and specific chemical biology tool to study the role of mtDNA expression in physiology and disease.

18 Dec 2020

Nearest-neighbor NMR spectroscopy: categorizing spectral peaks by their adjacent nuclei (Nature Communications)

Methyl-NMR enables atomic-resolution studies of structure and dynamics of large proteins in solution. However, resonance assignment remains challenging. The problem is to combine existing structural informational with sparse distance restraints and search for the most compatible assignment among the permutations. Prior classification of peaks as either from isoleucine, leucine, or valine reduces the search space by many orders of magnitude. However, this is hindered by overlapped leucine and valine frequencies. In contrast, the nearest-neighbor nuclei, coupled to the methyl carbons, resonate in distinct frequency bands. Here, Coote, P.,  Arthanari, H. et. al. develop a framework to imprint additional information about passively coupled resonances onto the observed peaks. This depends on simultaneously orchestrating closely spaced bands of resonances along different magnetization trajectories, using principles from control theory. For methyl-NMR, the method is implemented as a modification to the standard fingerprint spectrum (the 2D-HMQC). The amino acid type is immediately apparent in the fingerprint spectrum. There is no additional relaxation loss or an increase in experimental time. The method is validated on biologically relevant proteins. The idea of generating new spectral information using passive, adjacent resonances is applicable to other contexts in NMR spectroscopy. The structure and dynamics of large proteins and complexes can be studied by methyl-NMR but resonance assignment is still challenging. Here, the authors present a NMR method that leverages optimal control pulse design to unambiguously distinguish between Leu and Val using a simple 2D HMQC experiment and they apply it to several proteins including Cas9, interleukin, and human translation initiation factor eIF4a.

18 Dec 2020

Small-molecule-induced polymerization triggers degradation of BCL6 (Nature)

Effective and sustained inhibition of non-enzymatic oncogenic driver proteins is a major pharmacological challenge. The clinical success of thalidomide analogues demonstrates the therapeutic efficacy of drug-induced degradation of transcription factors and other cancer targets(1-3), but a substantial subset of proteins are resistant to targeted degradation using existing approaches(4,5). B. Elber, S. Fischer report an alternative mechanism of targeted protein degradation, in which a small molecule induces the highly specific, reversible polymerization of a target protein, followed by its sequestration into cellular foci and subsequent degradation. BI-3802 is a small molecule that binds to the Broad-complex, Tramtrack and Bric-a-brac (BTB) domain of the oncogenic transcription factor B cell lymphoma 6 (BCL6) and leads to the proteasomal degradation of BCL6(6). They use cryo-electron microscopy to reveal how the solvent-exposed moiety of a BCL6-binding molecule contributes to a composite ligand-protein surface that engages BCL6 homodimers to form a supramolecular structure. Drug-induced formation of BCL6 filaments facilitates ubiquitination by the SIAH1 E3 ubiquitin ligase. Our findings demonstrate that a small molecule such as BI-3802 can induce polymerization coupled to highly specific protein degradation, which in the case of BCL6 leads to increased pharmacological activity compared to the effects induced by other BCL6 inhibitors. These findings open new avenues for the development of therapeutic agents and synthetic biology.

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