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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

12 Jul

The Contribution of Biophysics and Structural Biology to Current Advances in COVID-19 (Annual reviews of Biophysics)

Critical to viral infection are the multiple interactions between viral proteins and host-cell counterparts. The first such interaction is the recognition of viral envelope proteins by surface receptors that normally fulfil other physiological roles, a hijacking mechanism perfected over the course of evolution. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the etiological agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), has successfully adopted this strategy using its spike glycoprotein to dock on the membrane-bound metalloprotease angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). The crystal structures of several SARS-CoV-2 proteins alone or in complex with their receptors or other ligands were recently solved at an unprecedented pace. This accomplishment is partly due to the increasing availability of data on other coronaviruses and ACE2 over the past 18 years. Likewise, other key intervening actors and mechanisms of viral infection were elucidated with the aid of biophysical approaches. An understanding of the various structurally important motifs of the interacting partners provides key mechanistic information for the development of structure-based designer drugs able to inhibit various steps of the infective cycle, including neutralizing antibodies, small organic drugs, and vaccines. This review analyzes current progress and the outlook for future structural studies.

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Reader's Corner Archive

4 May

Mechanism of NanR gene repression and allosteric induction of bacterial sialic acid metabolism (Nature Communications)

Bacteria respond to environmental changes by inducing transcription of some genes and repressing others. Sialic acids, which coat human cell surfaces, are a nutrient source for pathogenic and commensal bacteria. The Escherichia coli GntR-type transcriptional repressor, NanR, regulates sialic acid metabolism, but the mechanism is unclear. Here, R. C. J. Dobson et. al. demonstrate that three NanR dimers bind a (GGTATA)(3)-repeat operator cooperatively and with high affinity. Single-particle cryo-electron microscopy structures reveal the DNA-binding domain is reorganized to engage DNA, while three dimers assemble in close proximity across the (GGTATA)(3)-repeat operator. Such an interaction allows cooperative protein-protein interactions between NanR dimers via their N-terminal extensions. The effector, N-acetylneuraminate, binds NanR and attenuates the NanR-DNA interaction. The crystal structure of NanR in complex with N-acetylneuraminate reveals a domain rearrangement upon N-acetylneuraminate binding to lock NanR in a conformation that weakens DNA binding. Our data provide a molecular basis for the regulation of bacterial sialic acid metabolism. The GntR superfamily is one of the largest families of transcription factors in prokaryotes. Here the authors combine biophysical analysis and structural biology to dissect the mechanism by which NanR - a GntR-family regulator - binds to its promoter to repress the transcription of genes necessary for sialic acid metabolism.

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