Structure of the full SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome in infected cells
SARS-CoV-2 is a betacoronavirus with a single-stranded, positive-sense, 30-kilobase RNA genome responsible for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, there are no antiviral drugs or vaccines with proven efficacy, and development of these treatments are hampered by our limited understanding of the molecular and structural biology of the virus. Like many other RNA viruses, RNA structures in coronaviruses regulate gene expression and are crucial for viral replication. Although genome and transcriptome data were recently reported, there is to date little experimental data on predicted RNA structures in SARS-CoV-2 and most putative regulatory sequences are uncharacterized. Here we report the secondary structure of the entire SARS-CoV-2 genome in infected cells at single nucleotide resolution using dimethyl sulfate mutational profiling with sequencing (DMS-MaPseq). Silvi Rouskin et al. reveal previously undescribed structures within critical regulatory elements such as the genomic transcription-regulating sequences (TRSs). Contrary to previous studies, their in-cell data show that the structure of the frameshift element, which is a major drug target, is drastically different from prevailing in vitro models. The genomic structure detailed here lays the groundwork for coronavirus RNA biology and will guide the design of SARS-CoV-2 RNA-based therapeutics.