Identification of a SARS-like bat coronavirus which shares structural features with the spike glycoprotein receptor binding domain of COVID-19

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COVID-19 is a recently emerged coronavirus which binds angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) for cell entry via its receptor binding domain (RBD) on a surface-expressed spike glycoprotein. Recent studies show that despite its similarities to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus, there are critical differences in key RBD residues when compared to COVID-19. Here, I present a reliable model of the RBD of SARS-like bat coronavirus Rs3367, with sequence and structural analyses showing it shares a high conservation with COVID-19 in important ACE2-RBD residues, Phe486, Thr500, Asn501 and Tyr505; implicated in receptor binding strength and determining host range. Moreover, superimposition of this model on the COVID-19 ACE2-RBD complex revealed critical ACE2 contacts are also maintained. In addition, residue Asn488Rs3367 interacted with a previously defined pocket on ACE2 composed of Tyr41, Lys353 and Asp355, whereas Asn501COVID-19 pointed outwards and did not elicit this interaction, providing molecular insights with implications for vaccine design.
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Emerging infectious diseases, such as SARS and Zika, present a major threat to public health1–3. Despite intense research efforts, how, when and where new diseases appear are still the source of considerable uncertainly. A severe respiratory disease was recently reported in the city Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Up to 25th of January 2020, at least 1,975 cases have been reported since the first patient was hospitalized on the 12th of December 2019. Epidemiological investigation suggested that the outbreak was associated with a seafood market in Wuhan. We studied one patient who was a worker at the market, and who was admitted to Wuhan Central Hospital on 26th of December 2019 experiencing a severe respiratory syndrome including fever, dizziness and cough. Metagenomic RNA sequencing4 of a bronchoalveolar lavage fluid sample identified a novel RNA virus from the family Coronaviridae, designed here as WH-Human-1 coronavirus. Phylogenetic analysis of the complete viral genome (29,903 nucleotides) revealed that the virus was most closely related (89.1% nucleotide similarity) to a group of SARS-like coronaviruses (genus Betacoronavirus, subgenus Sarbecovirus) previously sampled from bats in China. This outbreak highlights the ongoing capacity of viral spill-over from animals to cause severe disease in humans.
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A large number of SARS-related coronaviruses (SARSr-CoV) have been detected in horseshoe bats since 2005 in different areas of China. However, these bat SARSr-CoVs show sequence differences from SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in different genes (S, ORF8, ORF3, etc) and are considered unlikely to represent the direct progenitor of SARS-CoV. Herein, we report the findings of our 5-year surveillance of SARSr-CoVs in a cave inhabited by multiple species of horseshoe bats in Yunnan Province, China. The full-length genomes of 11 newly discovered SARSr-CoV strains, together with our previous findings, reveals that the SARSr-CoVs circulating in this single location are highly diverse in the S gene, ORF3 and ORF8. Importantly, strains with high genetic similarity to SARS-CoV in the hypervariable N-terminal domain (NTD) and receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the S1 gene, the ORF3 and ORF8 region, respectively, were all discovered in this cave. In addition, we report the first discovery of bat SARSr-CoVs highly similar to human SARS-CoV in ORF3b and in the split ORF8a and 8b. Moreover, SARSr-CoV strains from this cave were more closely related to SARS-CoV in the non-structural protein genes ORF1a and 1b compared with those detected elsewhere. Recombination analysis shows evidence of frequent recombination events within the S gene and around the ORF8 between these SARSr-CoVs. We hypothesize that the direct progenitor of SARS-CoV may have originated after sequential recombination events between the precursors of these SARSr-CoVs. Cell entry studies demonstrated that three newly identified SARSr-CoVs with different S protein sequences are all able to use human ACE2 as the receptor, further exhibiting the close relationship between strains in this cave and SARS-CoV. This work provides new insights into the origin and evolution of SARS-CoV and highlights the necessity of preparedness for future emergence of SARS-like diseases.
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The discovery of SARS-like coronavirus in bats suggests that bats could be the natural reservoir of SARS-CoV. However, previous studies indicated the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein, a known SARS-CoV receptor, from a horseshoe bat was unable to act as a functional receptor for SARS-CoV. Here, we extended our previous study to ACE2 molecules from seven additional bat species and tested their interactions with human SARS-CoV spike protein using both HIV-based pseudotype and live SARS-CoV infection assays. The results show that ACE2s of Myotis daubentoni and Rhinolophus sinicus support viral entry mediated by the SARS-CoV S protein, albeit with different efficiency in comparison to that of the human ACE2. Further, the alteration of several key residues either decreased or enhanced bat ACE2 receptor efficiency, as predicted from a structural modeling study of the different bat ACE2 molecules. These data suggest that M. daubentoni and R. sinicus are likely to be susceptible to SARS-CoV and may be candidates as the natural host of the SARS-CoV progenitor viruses. Furthermore, our current study also demonstrates that the genetic diversity of ACE2 among bats is greater than that observed among known SARS-CoV susceptible mammals, highlighting the possibility that there are many more uncharacterized bat species that can act as a reservoir of SARS-CoV or its progenitor viruses. This calls for continuation and expansion of field surveillance studies among different bat populations to eventually identify the true natural reservoir of SARS-CoV.
The coronavirus spike protein is a multifunctional molecular machine that mediates coronavirus entry into host cells. It first binds to a receptor on the host cell surface through its S1 subunit and then fuses viral and host membranes through its S2 subunit. Two domains in S1 from different coronaviruses recognize a variety of host receptors, leading to viral attachment. The spike protein exists in two structurally distinct conformations, prefusion and postfusion. The transition from prefusion to postfusion conformation of the spike protein must be triggered, leading to membrane fusion. This article reviews current knowledge about the structures and functions of coronavirus spike proteins, illustrating how the two S1 domains recognize different receptors and how the spike proteins are regulated to undergo conformational transitions. I further discuss the evolution of these two critical functions of coronavirus spike proteins, receptor recognition and membrane fusion, in the context of the corresponding functions from other viruses and host cells. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Virology Volume 3 is September 29, 2016. Please see for revised estimates.
Comparative protein structure modeling predicts the three-dimensional structure of a given protein sequence (target) based primarily on its alignment to one or more proteins of known structure (templates). The prediction process consists of fold assignment, target-template alignment, model building, and model evaluation. This unit describes how to calculate comparative models using the program MODELLER and how to use the ModBase database of such models, and discusses all four steps of comparative modeling, frequently observed errors, and some applications. Modeling lactate dehydrogenase from Trichomonas vaginalis (TvLDH) is described as an example. The download and installation of the MODELLER software is also described. © 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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