The Coronavirus Spike Protein Is a Class I Virus Fusion Protein: Structural and Functional Characterization of the Fusion Core Complex
Berend Jan Bosch, Ruurd van der Zee, Cornelis A. M. de Haan, Peter J. M. Rottier
Journal of Virology
Coronavirus entry is mediated by the viral spike (S) glycoprotein. The 180-kDa oligomeric S protein of the murine coronavirus mouse hepatitis virus strain A59 is posttranslationally cleaved into an S1 receptor binding unit and an S2 membrane fusion unit. The latter is thought to contain an internal fusion peptide and has two 4,3 hydrophobic (heptad) repeat regions designated HR1 and HR2. HR2 is located close to the membrane anchor, and HR1 is some 170 amino acids (aa) upstream of it. Heptad repeat (HR) regions are found in fusion proteins of many different viruses and form an important characteristic of class I viral fusion proteins. We investigated the role of these regions in coronavirus membrane fusion. Peptides HR1 (96 aa) and HR2 (39 aa), corresponding to the HR1 and HR2 regions, were produced in Escherichia coli. When mixed together, the two peptides were found to assemble into an extremely stable oligomeric complex. Both on their own and within the complex, the peptides were highly alpha helical. Electron microscopic analysis of the complex revealed a rod-like structure ∼14.5 nm in length. Limited proteolysis in combination with mass spectrometry indicated that HR1 and HR2 occur in the complex in an antiparallel fashion. In the native protein, such a conformation would bring the proposed fusion peptide, located in the N-terminal domain of HR1, and the transmembrane anchor into close proximity. Using biological assays, the HR2 peptide was shown to be a potent inhibitor of virus entry into the cell, as well as of cell-cell fusion. Both biochemical and functional data show that the coronavirus spike protein is a class I viral fusion protein.
Circular dichroism, Secondary structure, Biochemistry