How SARS-CoV-2 binds to human cells

Source: Science Magazine

Severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a positive-strand RNA virus that causes severe respiratory syndrome in humans. The resulting outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has emerged as a severe epidemic, claiming more than 2000 lives worldwide between December 2019 and February 2020 (1, 2). The genome of SARS-CoV-2 shares about 80% identity with that of SARS-CoV and is about 96% identical to the bat coronavirus BatCoV RaTG13 (2).

In the case of SARS-CoV, the spike glycoprotein (S protein) on the virion surface mediates receptor recognition and membrane fusion (3, 4). During viral infection, the trimeric S protein is cleaved into S1 and S2 subunits and S1 subunits are released in the transition to the postfusion conformation (4–7). S1 contains the receptor binding domain (RBD), which directly binds to the peptidase domain (PD) of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) (8), whereas S2 is responsible for membrane fusion. When S1 binds to the host receptor ACE2, another cleavage site on S2 is exposed and is cleaved by host proteases, a process that is critical for viral infection (5, 9, 10). The S protein of SARS-CoV-2 may also exploit ACE2 for host infection (2, 11–13). A recent publication reported the structure of the S protein of SARS-CoV-2 and showed that the ectodomain of the SARS-CoV-2 S protein binds to the PD of ACE2 with a dissociation constant (Kd) of ~15 nM (14).

Although ACE2 is hijacked by some coronaviruses, its primary physiological role is in the maturation of angiotensin (Ang), a peptide hormone that controls vasoconstriction and blood pressure. ACE2 is a type I membrane protein expressed in lungs, heart, kidneys, and intestine (15–17). Decreased expression of ACE2 is associated with cardiovascular diseases (18–20). Full-length ACE2 consists of an N-terminal PD and a C-terminal collectrin-like domain (CLD) that ends with a single transmembrane helix and a ~40-residue intracellular segment (15, 21). The PD of ACE2 cleaves Ang I to produce Ang-(1-9), which is then processed by other enzymes to become Ang-(1-7). ACE2 can also directly process Ang II to give Ang-(1-7) (15, 22).



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