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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

9 Sep 2022

Omicron SARS-CoV-2 mutations stabilize spike up-RBD conformation and lead to a non-RBM-binding monoclonal antibody escape (Nature Communications)

Omicron SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly spreading worldwide. To delineate the impact of emerging mutations on spike's properties, we performed systematic structural analyses on apo Omicron spike and its complexes with human ACE2 or S309 neutralizing antibody (NAb) by cryo-EM. The Omicron spike preferentially adopts the one-RBD-up conformation both before and after ACE2 binding, which is in sharp contrast to the orchestrated conformational changes to create more up-RBDs upon ACE2 binding as observed in the prototype and other four variants of concern (VOCs). Furthermore, we found that S371L, S373P and S375F substitutions enhance the stability of the one-RBD-up conformation to prevent exposing more up-RBDs triggered by ACE2 binding. The increased stability of the one-RBD-up conformation restricts the accessibility of S304 NAb, which targets a cryptic epitope in the closed conformation, thus facilitating the immune evasion by Omicron. These results expand our understanding of Omicron spike's conformation, receptor binding and antibody evasion mechanism.

The SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant spreads rapidly. Here the authors show that Omicron S preferentially adopts the one-RBD-up conformation, which leads to a non-RBM-binding monoclonal antibody escape. Mutagenesis reveals that S371L, S373P and S375F substitutions enhance the conformational stability.

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Reader's Corner Archive

15 Nov 2022

NMR-guided directed evolution (Nature)

Directed evolution is a powerful tool for improving existing properties and imparting completely new functionalities to proteins. Nonetheless, its potential in even small proteins is inherently limited by the astronomical number of possible amino acid sequences. Sampling the complete sequence space of a 100-residue protein would require testing of 20100 combinations, which is beyond any existing experimental approach. In practice, selective modification of relatively few residues is sufficient for efficient improvement, functional enhancement and repurposing of existing proteins. Moreover, computational methods have been developed to predict the locations and, in certain cases, identities of potentially productive mutations. Importantly, all current approaches for prediction of hot spots and productive mutations rely heavily on structural information and/or bioinformatics, which is not always available for proteins of interest. Moreover, they offer a limited ability to identify beneficial mutations far from the active site, even though such changes may markedly improve the catalytic properties of an enzym. Machine learning methods have recently showed promise in predicting productive mutations, but they frequently require large, high-quality training datasets, which are difficult to obtain in directed evolution experiments. Here we show that mutagenic hot spots in enzymes can be identified using NMR spectroscopy. In a proof-of-concept study, we converted myoglobin, a non-enzymatic oxygen storage protein, into a highly efficient Kemp eliminase using only three mutations. The observed levels of catalytic efficiency exceed those of proteins designed using current approaches and are similar with those of natural enzymes for the reactions that they are evolved to catalyse. Given the simplicity of this experimental approach, which requires no a priori structural or bioinformatic knowledge, we expect it to be widely applicable and to enable the full potential of directed enzyme evolution.

6 Oct 2022

Plant receptor-like protein activation by a microbial glycoside hydrolase (Nature)

Plants rely on cell-surface-localized pattern recognition receptors to detect pathogen- or host-derived danger signals and trigger an immune response. Receptor-like proteins (RLPs) with a leucine-rich repeat (LRR) ectodomain constitute a subgroup of pattern recognition receptors and play a critical role in plant immunity. Mechanisms underlying ligand recognition and activation of LRR-RLPs remain elusive. Here we report a crystal structure of the LRR-RLP RXEG1 from Nicotiana benthamiana that recognizes XEG1 xyloglucanase from the pathogen Phytophthora sojae. The structure reveals that specific XEG1 recognition is predominantly mediated by an amino-terminal and a carboxy-terminal loop-out region (RXEG1(ID)) of RXEG1. The two loops bind to the active-site groove of XEG1, inhibiting its enzymatic activity and suppressing Phytophthora infection of N. benthamiana. Binding of XEG1 promotes association of RXEG1(LRR) with the LRR-type co-receptor BAK1 through RXEG1(ID) and the last four conserved LRRs to trigger RXEG1-mediated immune responses. Comparison of the structures of apo-RXEG1(LRR), XEG1–RXEG1(LRR) and XEG1–BAK1–RXEG1(LRR) shows that binding of XEG1 induces conformational changes in the N-terminal region of RXEG1(ID) and enhances structural flexibility of the BAK1-associating regions of RXEG1(LRR). These changes allow fold switching of RXEG1(ID) for recruitment of BAK1(LRR). Our data reveal a conserved mechanism of ligand-induced heterodimerization of an LRR-RLP with BAK1 and suggest a dual function for the LRR-RLP in plant immunity.

9 Sep 2022

Cross-validation of distance measurements in proteins by PELDOR/DEER and single-molecule FRET (Nature Communications)

Pulsed electron-electron double resonance spectroscopy (PELDOR/DEER) and single-molecule Forster resonance energy transfer spectroscopy (smFRET) are frequently used to determine conformational changes, structural heterogeneity, and inter probe distances in biological macromolecules. They provide qualitative information that facilitates mechanistic understanding of biochemical processes and quantitative data for structural modelling. To provide a comprehensive comparison of the accuracy of PELDOR/DEER and smFRET, we use a library of double cysteine variants of four proteins that undergo large-scale conformational changes upon ligand binding. With either method, we use established standard experimental protocols and data analysis routines to determine inter-probe distances in the presence and absence of ligands. The results are compared to distance predictions from structural models. Despite an overall satisfying and similar distance accuracy, some inconsistencies are identified, which we attribute to the use of cryoprotectants for PELDOR/DEER and label-protein interactions for smFRET. This large-scale cross-validation of PELDOR/DEER and smFRET highlights the strengths, weaknesses, and synergies of these two important and complementary tools in integrative structural biology.

Pulsed electron-electron double resonance spectroscopy (PELDOR/DEER) and single-molecule Forster resonance energy transfer spectroscopy (smFRET) are used to determine conformational changes and probe distances in biological macromolecules. Here the authors compare the methods on a large set of samples.

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