Structural and functional analysis of the coronavirus spike protein fusion peptide

  • Funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Total publications:0 publications

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Key facts

  • Disease

    COVID-19, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
  • Start & end year

  • Known Financial Commitments (USD)

  • Funder

    National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Principle Investigator

  • Research Location

    United States of America, Americas
  • Lead Research Institution

  • Research Category

    Pathogen: natural history, transmission and diagnostics

  • Research Subcategory

    Pathogen morphology, shedding & natural history

  • Special Interest Tags


  • Study Subject


  • Clinical Trial Details


  • Broad Policy Alignment


  • Age Group

    Not Applicable

  • Vulnerable Population

    Not applicable

  • Occupations of Interest

    Not applicable


Project Summary / AbstractEnveloped viruses access their host cells by binding to receptors on the plasma membrane and then undergoingfusion with the host membrane. Both binding and fusion are mediated by a specific viral "spike" protein that istypically primed for fusion activation by proteolytic cleavage to expose the fusion peptide. Coronavirus fusionspike protein (CoV S) is a complex biomolecular machine that has a novel fusion peptide with has a great dealof inherent flexibility in its fusion reaction. This is exploited by these viruses in their diverse entry pathways andis a primary determinant of viral tropism. We have pioneered the concept that that the proteolytic cleavage eventsin S that lead to membrane fusion occur both at the interface of the receptor binding (S1) and fusion (S2) domains(called S1/S2), as well as adjacent to a structurally and functionally novel fusion peptide within S2 (called S2').Thus, there are notable differences between CoV S and most other class I fusion proteins including: 1) that theproteolytic events liberating the fusion peptide are diverse, and 2) that the fusion peptide itself is atypical insequence compared to other fusion peptides, containing a mixture of important hydrophobic and negatively-charged residues, and may represent a larger than normal fusion "platform" instead of a defined "peptide". Thusfusion peptide activity is likely controlled by reorganization of the fusion platform, based on both hydrophobic(i.e. lipid-binding) and ionic (i.e. Ca2+) interactions. Despite the recent availability of S structures in their pre-fusion state, there remains a very limited mechanistic understanding of membrane fusion for the CoV family, orany structural information to correlate structural biology aspects of S to its function in membrane fusion. Thisinformation is critical to understanding viral pathogenesis and CoV emergence into the human population. Wepropose an integrated biophysical, biochemical, and in vivo approach to study the unique cleavage-activatedregulation of CoV S protein, using Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and severe acuterespiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) as primary models. We will use state-of-the-art spectroscopyand an innovative single particle tracking technique to study S protein fusion peptide function, and combine thesewith in vivo infectivity studies, including at BSL3, will allow a complete picture of CoV fusion activation. Theseapproaches will reveal how structure and function vary depending on the key activators of S; i.e. receptor binding,protease availability and the local ionic environment. These studies will allow us to determine common principalsthat can be applied to all CoVs, moving the field forward with these innovative studies will provide criticalknowledge about CoV entry and tropism needed to safeguard human health from an emerging pathogen likelyto cause severe outbreaks, and for which few or no medical countermeasures exist.