The host cell membrane binding surfaces of SARS-CoV-2 spike variants

In a current research posted to iScience, researchers recognized extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike surfaces concerned in binding to host cell membranes.

Study: Progressive membrane binding mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 variant spike proteins. Image Credit: Andrii Vodolazhskyi/Shutterstock
Examine: Progressive membrane binding mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 variant spike proteins. Picture Credit score: Andrii Vodolazhskyi/Shutterstock


All through the CoV illness 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, a number of variants of concern (VOCs), the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron variants, have emerged. The Omicron variant is extremely transmissible and replicates a lot quicker within the bronchus, the place it enters cells by means of the endosomal pathway.

In distinction, pre-Omicron VOCs enter cells by fusing with the mobile membrane within the lung with a lot slower replication destroying the tissues and invading different organs (kidney, liver, coronary heart, and so on.). The trimeric spike (S) protein comprises two subunits: S1 and S2. S1 subunit features a sign peptide and N-terminal (NTD) and receptor-binding (RBD) domains, whereas the S2 subunit encompasses heptapeptide repeat sequences 1 and a couple of and a fusion peptide.

The operate of NTD is unknown, whereas the RBD mediates viral attachment with angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) on host cells by means of receptor-binding motif (RBM). Membrane-binding websites in proteins could possibly be predicted utilizing applications like Ez-3D, membrane optimum docking space (MODA), and place of proteins in membranes (PPM). Beforehand, the present research’s authors recognized membrane recognition websites in viral and bacterial trafficking proteins.

The research and findings

Within the current research, researchers used MODA to discover membrane interplay websites of S protein variants and reported a complete binding mechanism. Not one of the > 2300 S protein constructions reported to date comprise lipid bilayers. Nonetheless, some constructions of S protein complexed with biliverdin and fatty acids sure inside the S ectodomain exist.

The membrane-binding propensities of residues in 158 S protein constructions from SARS-CoV, 12 SARS-CoV-2 variants, and homologs from bats and pangolins have been computed utilizing MODA. This system assigns a binding propensity to every residue based mostly on the presence of options present in well-characterized protein constructions that bind to lipid bilayers by means of uncovered hydrophobic, polar, and fragrant moieties.

Constantly, the membrane-binding floor of all S constructions was fashioned by RBM, comprising greater than 83% of the membrane-binding propensity of S proteins of SARS-CoV-2. Though the closed S trimer can not work together with ACE2, it comprises three roughly symmetric 445KVGG447 parts that work together with the membrane.

The docking propensity of the KVGG motif was variable and exhibited two-fold increased MODA scores in SARS-CoV-2 Omicron BA.1 and BA.3 variants that includes a mutated motif (KVSG). This factor is surrounded by AGSTP479 motifs with the best propensities in SARS-CoV-2 variants, whereas the corresponding parts in SARS-CoV, bat CoV, and pangolin CoV didn’t exhibit such propensity.

Likewise, the proximal VEGFNCYF490 motif exhibited increased binding propensities in SARS-CoV-2 variants. The authors posit that closed S protein mediates preliminary docking to host cell membranes by means of these RBM parts. The membrane-binding propensities of S RBM adopted the order: SARS-CoV-2 > SARS-CoV > bat CoV > pangolin CoV. The Omicron BA.1 variant exhibited the best propensity inside its RBD in open and closed states.

MODA evaluation of the trimeric S constructions revealed the next 5 phases of membrane affiliation – 1) The closed S trimer protrudes the three RBMs in direction of the cell membrane perpendicularly, with the convex docking floor penetrating partly into the lipid bilayer. 2) One RBD switches to ‘up conformation,’ inflicting the RBMs to type a big floor that might dock obliquely.

3) A second RBD adopts the ‘up’ place creating an excellent bigger and flatter floor, and on this state, it docks extra optimally to the membrane when the trimer tilts by 30°, drawing them even nearer. 4) Two ACE2 molecules might work together with one of many ‘up’ subunits by displacing the host lipids from RBM surfaces.

On this state, the trimer axis is tilted by 40°, permitting the ‘down’ RBM and NTD motifs to dock to the lipid bilayer. 5) As soon as the third RBD adjustments to the ‘up place,’ a 3rd ACE2 might bind to type the perpendicular and symmetric complicated that initiates membrane fusion. This mannequin of progressive membrane binding appeared typically conserved throughout Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Delta, and kappa variants.


In conclusion, the researchers proposed that the recognized S protein interfaces enable trimeric S to bind progressively to lipid bilayer membranes throughout fusion and to intracellular membranes. The titled conformation would possibly enable S trimers to attract the viral membrane near the host membrane. Notably, the present findings are based mostly on computational evaluation and thus require experimental validation.

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