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Highlights of Coronavirus Structural Studies

6 Apr 2022

Deep learning guided optimization of human antibody against SARS-CoV-2 variants with broad neutralization (PNAS)

The ability of viruses to mutate and evade the human immune system and neutralizing antibodies remains an obstacle to antiviral and vaccine development. Many neutralizing antibodies, including some approved for emergency use authorization (EUA), reduced or lost activity against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants. Here, we introduce a geometric deep learning algorithm that efficiently enhances antibody affinity to achieve broader and more potent neutralizing activity against such variants. We demonstrate the utility of our approach on a human antibody P36-5D2, which is effective against SARS-CoV-2 Alpha, Beta, and Gamma but not Delta. We show that our geometric neural network model optimizes this antibody's complementaritydetermining region (CDR) sequences to improve its binding affinity against multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants. Through iterative optimization of the CDR regions and experimental measurements, we enable expanded antibody breadth and improved potency by similar to 10to 600-fold against SARS-CoV-2 variants, including Delta. We have also demonstrated that our approach can identify CDR changes that alleviate the impact of two Omicron mutations on the epitope. These results highlight the power of our deep learning approach in antibody optimization and its potential application to engineering other protein molecules. Our optimized antibodies can potentially be developed into antibody drug candidates for current and emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.

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Reader's Corner Archive

22 Mar 2023

Structure of the NuA4 acetyltransferase complex bound to the nucleosom (Nature)

Deoxyribonucleic acid in eukaryotes wraps around the histone octamer to form nucleosomes, the fundamental unit of chromatin. The N termini of histone H4 interact with nearby nucleosomes and play an important role in the formation of high-order chromatin structure and heterochromatin silencing. NuA4 in yeast and its homologue Tip60 complex in mammalian cells are the key enzymes that catalyse H4 acetylation, which in turn regulates chromatin packaging and function in transcription activation and DNA repair. Here we report the cryo-electron microscopy structure of NuA4 from Sacchromyces cerevisiae bound to the nucleosome.NuA4 comprises two major modules: the catalytic histone acetyltransferase (HAT) module and the transcription activator-binding (TRA) module. The nucleosome is mainly bound by the HAT module and is positioned close to a polybasic surface of the TRA module, which is important for the optimal activity of NuA4. The nucleosomal linker DNA carrying the upstream activation sequence is oriented towards the conserved, transcription activator-binding surface of the Tra1 subunit, which suggests a potential mechanism of NuA4 to act as a transcription co-activator. The HAT module recognizes the disk face of the nucleosome through the H2A–H2B acidic patch and nucleosomal DNA, projecting the catalytic pocket of Esa1 to the N-terminal tail of H4 and supporting its function in selective acetylation of H4. Together, our findings illustrate how NuA4 is assembled and provide mechanistic insights into nucleosome recognition and transcription co-activation by a HAT.

22 Mar 2023

Structure of the human DICER–pre-miRNA complex in a dicing state (Nature)

Dicer has a key role in small RNA biogenesis, processing double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs). Human DICER (hDICER, also known as DICER1) is specialized for cleaving small hairpin structures such as precursor microRNAs (pre-miRNAs) and has limited activity towards long dsRNAs—unlike its homologues in lower eukaryotes and plants, which cleave long dsRNAs. Although the mechanism by which long dsRNAs are cleaved has been well documented, our understanding of pre-miRNA processing is incomplete because structures of hDICER in a catalytic state are lacking. Here we report the cryo-electron microscopy structure of hDICER bound to pre-miRNA in a dicing state and uncover the structural basis of pre-miRNA processing. hDICER undergoes large conformational changes to attain the active state. The helicase domain becomes flexible, which allows the binding of pre-miRNA to the catalytic valley. The double-stranded RNA-binding domain relocates and anchors pre-miRNA in a specific position through both sequence-independent and sequence-specific recognition of the newly identified ‘GYM motif’. The DICER-specific PAZ helix is also reoriented to accommodate the RNA. Furthermore, our structure identifies a configuration of the 5′ end of pre-miRNA inserted into a basic pocket. In this pocket, a group of arginine residues recognize the 5′ terminal base (disfavouring guanine) and terminal monophosphate; this explains the specificity of hDICER and how it determines the cleavage site. We identify cancer-associated mutations in the 5′ pocket residues that impair miRNA biogenesis. Our study reveals how hDICER recognizes pre-miRNAs with stringent specificity and enables a mechanistic understanding of hDICER-related diseases.

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