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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

4 Aug

Nanobodies from camelid mice and llamas neutralize SARS-CoV-2 variants (Nature)

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 has caused millions of deaths worldwide. Although a number of vaccines have been deployed, the continual evolution of the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the virus has challenged their efficacy. In particular, the emerging variants B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1 (first detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, respectively) have compromised the efficacy of sera from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and immunotherapies that have received emergency use authorization. One potential alternative to avert viral escape is the use of camelid VHHs (variable heavy chain domains of heavy chain antibody (also known as nanobodies)), which can recognize epitopes that are often inaccessible to conventional antibodies. Here, we isolate anti-RBD nanobodies from llamas and from mice that we engineered to produce VHHs cloned from alpacas, dromedaries and Bactrian camels. We identified two groups of highly neutralizing nanobodies. Group 1 circumvents antigenic drift by recognizing an RBD region that is highly conserved in coronaviruses but rarely targeted by human antibodies. Group 2 is almost exclusively focused to the RBD-ACE2 interface and does not neutralize SARS-CoV-2 variants that carry E484K or N501Y substitutions. However, nanobodies in group 2 retain full neutralization activity against these variants when expressed as homotrimers, and-to our knowledge-rival the most potent antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 that have been produced to date. These findings suggest that multivalent nanobodies overcome SARS-CoV-2 mutations through two separate mechanisms: enhanced avidity for the ACE2-binding domain and recognition of conserved epitopes that are largely inaccessible to human antibodies. Therefore, although new SARS-CoV-2 mutants will continue to emerge, nanobodies represent promising tools to prevent COVID-19 mortality when vaccines are compromised.

12 Jul

A SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibody with extensive Spike binding coverage and modified for optimal therapeutic outcomes (Nature Communications)

COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 constitutes a global public health crisis with enormous economic consequences. Monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 can provide an important treatment option to fight COVID-19, especially for the most vulnerable populations. In this work, potent antibodies binding to SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein were identified from COVID-19 convalescent patients. Among them, P4A1 interacts directly with and covers majority of the Receptor Binding Motif of the Spike Receptor-Binding Domain, shown by high-resolution complex structure analysis. We further demonstrate the binding and neutralizing activities of P4A1 against wild type and mutant Spike proteins or pseudoviruses. P4A1 was subsequently engineered to reduce the potential risk for Antibody-Dependent Enhancement of infection and to extend its half-life. The engineered antibody exhibits an optimized pharmacokinetic and safety profile, and it results in complete viral clearance in a rhesus monkey model of COVID-19 following a single injection. These data suggest its potential against SARS-CoV-2 related diseases. Antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 S protein can provide a treatment strategy for COVID-19. Here, Guo et al. provide the crystal structure of a SARS-CoV2 neutralizing antibody isolated from a convalescent patient and highlight the therapeutic efficacy in a rhesus monkey model of an engineered version with optimized pharmacokinetic and safety profile.

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Reader's Corner Archive

18 May

Beam image-shift accelerated data acquisition for near-atomic resolution single-particle cryo-electron tomography (Nature Communications)

Tomographic reconstruction of cryopreserved specimens imaged in an electron microscope followed by extraction and averaging of sub-volumes has been successfully used to derive atomic models of macromolecules in their biological environment. Eliminating biochemical isolation steps required by other techniques, this method opens up the cell to in-situ structural studies. However, the need to compensate for errors in targeting introduced during mechanical navigation of the specimen significantly slows down tomographic data collection thus limiting its practical value. Here, Borgnia, M. J., Bartesaghi, A. et. al. introduce protocols for tilt-series acquisition and processing that accelerate data collection speed by up to an order of magnitude and improve map resolution compared to existing approaches. They achieve this by using beam-image shift to multiply the number of areas imaged at each stage position, by integrating geometrical constraints during imaging to achieve high precision targeting, and by performing per-tilt astigmatic CTF estimation and data-driven exposure weighting to improve final map resolution. They validated our beam image-shift electron cryo-tomography (BISECT) approach by determining the structure of a low molecular weight target (~300 kDa) at 3.6 Å resolution where density for individual side chains is clearly resolved.

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