skip to main content

Title: Conserved Genomic Terminals of SARS-CoV-2 as Coevolving Functional Elements and Potential Therapeutic Targets
ABSTRACT Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has infected over 40 million people worldwide, with over 1 million deaths as of October 2020 and with multiple efforts in the development and testing of antiviral drugs and vaccines under way. In order to gain insights into SARS-CoV-2 evolution and drug targets, we investigated how and to what extent the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence differs from those of other well-characterized human and animal coronavirus genomes, as well as how polymorphic SARS-CoV-2 genomes are generally. We ultimately sought to identify features in the SARS-CoV-2 genome that may contribute to its viral replication, host pathogenicity, and vulnerabilities. Our analyses suggest the presence of unique sequence signatures in the 3′ untranslated region (3′-UTR) of betacoronavirus lineage B, which phylogenetically encompasses SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV as well as multiple groups of bat and animal coronaviruses. In addition, we identified genome-wide patterns of variation across different SARS-CoV-2 strains that likely reflect the effects of selection. Finally, we provide evidence for a possible host-microRNA-mediated interaction between the 3′-UTR and human microRNA hsa-miR-1307-3p based on the results of multiple computational target prediction analyses and an assessment of similar interactions involving the influenza A H1N1 virus. This interaction also suggests a more » possible survival mechanism, whereby a mutation in the SARS-CoV-2 3′-UTR leads to a weakened host immune response. The potential roles of host microRNAs in SARS-CoV-2 replication and infection and the exploitation of conserved features in the 3′-UTR as therapeutic targets warrant further investigation. IMPORTANCE The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak is having a dramatic global effect on public health and the economy. As of October 2020, SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in over 189 countries, has infected over 40 million people, and is responsible for more than 1 million deaths. The genome of SARS-CoV-2 is small but complex, and its functions and interactions with human host factors are being studied extensively. The significance of our study is that, using extensive SARS-CoV-2 genome analysis techniques, we identified potential interacting human host microRNA targets that share similarity with those of influenza A virus H1N1. Our study results will allow the development of virus-host interaction models that will enhance our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis and motivate the exploitation of both the interacting viral and host factors as therapeutic targets. « less
Authors:
; ;
Editors:
Lee, Benhur
Award ID(s):
2031819
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10297137
Journal Name:
mSphere
Volume:
5
Issue:
6
ISSN:
2379-5042
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlights the necessity for a more fundamental understanding of the coronavirus life cycle. The causative agent of the disease, SARS-CoV-2, is being studied extensively from a structural standpoint in order to gain insight into key molecular mechanisms required for its survival. Contained within the untranslated regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome are various conserved stem-loop elements that are believed to function in RNA replication, viral protein translation, and discontinuous transcription. While the majority of these regions are variable in sequence, a 41-nucleotide s2m element within the genome 3′ untranslated region is highly conserved among coronaviruses and three other viral families. In this study, we demonstrate that the SARS-CoV-2 s2m element dimerizes by forming an intermediate homodimeric kissing complex structure that is subsequently converted to a thermodynamically stable duplex conformation. This process is aided by the viral nucleocapsid protein, potentially indicating a role in mediating genome dimerization. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the s2m element interacts with multiple copies of host cellular microRNA (miRNA) 1307-3p. Taken together, our results highlight the potential significance of the dimer structures formed by the s2m element in key biological processes and implicate the motif as a possible therapeutic drug target for COVID-19more »and other coronavirus-related diseases.

    « less
  2. Abstract

    SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA enveloped virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic that conducted in 6 million deaths worldwide so far. SARS-CoV-2 particles are mainly composed of the 4 main structural proteins M, N, E and S to form 100 nm diameter viral particles. Based on productive assays, we propose an optimal transfected plasmid ratio mimicking the viral RNA ratio in infected cells. This allows SARS-CoV-2 Virus-Like Particle (VLPs) formation composed of the viral structural proteins M, N, E and mature S. Furthermore, fluorescent or photoconvertible VLPs were generated by adding a fluorescent protein tag on N or M mixing with unlabeled viral proteins and characterized by western blots, atomic force microscopy coupled to fluorescence and immuno-spotting. Thanks to live fluorescence and super-resolution microscopies, we quantified VLPs size and concentration. SARS-CoV-2 VLPs present a diameter of 110 and 140 nm respectively for MNE-VLPs and MNES-VLPs with a concentration of 10e12 VLP/ml. In this condition, we were able to establish the incorporation of the Spike in the fluorescent VLPs. Finally, the Spike functionality was assessed by monitoring fluorescent MNES-VLPs docking and internalization in human pulmonary cells expressing or not the receptor hACE2. Results show a preferential maturation of S on N(GFP) labeled VLPsmore »and an hACE2-dependent VLP internalization and a potential fusion in host cells. This work provides new insights on the use of non-fluorescent and fluorescent VLPs to study and visualize the SARS-CoV-2 viral life cycle in a safe environment (BSL-2 instead of BSL-3). Moreover, optimized SARS-CoV-2 VLP production can be further adapted to vaccine design strategies.

    « less
  3. Kosakovsky Pond, Sergei L. (Ed.)
    Respiratory viruses present major public health challenges, as evidenced by the 1918 Spanish Flu, the 1957 H2N2, 1968 H3N2, and 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemics, and the ongoing severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic. Severe RNA virus respiratory infections often correlate with high viral load and excessive inflammation. Understanding the dynamics of the innate immune response and its manifestations at the cell and tissue levels is vital to understanding the mechanisms of immunopathology and to developing strain-independent treatments. Here, we present a novel spatialized multicellular computational model of RNA virus infection and the type-I interferon-mediated antiviral response that it induces within lung epithelial cells. The model is built using the CompuCell3D multicellular simulation environment and is parameterized using data from influenza virus-infected cell cultures. Consistent with experimental observations, it exhibits either linear radial growth of viral plaques or arrested plaque growth depending on the local concentration of type I interferons. The model suggests that modifying the activity of signaling molecules in the JAK/STAT pathway or altering the ratio of the diffusion lengths of interferon and virus in the cell culture could lead to plaque growth arrest. The dependence of plaque growth arrest on diffusion lengths highlights the importance ofmore »developing validated spatial models of cytokine signaling and the need for in vitro measurement of these diffusion coefficients. Sensitivity analyses under conditions leading to continuous or arrested plaque growth found that plaque growth is more sensitive to variations of most parameters and more likely to have identifiable model parameters when conditions lead to plaque arrest. This result suggests that cytokine assay measurements may be most informative under conditions leading to arrested plaque growth. The model is easy to extend to include SARS-CoV-2-specific mechanisms or to use as a component in models linking epithelial cell signaling to systemic immune models.« less
  4. Kretzschmar, Mirjam E. (Ed.)
    Background Development of an effective antiviral drug for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a global health priority. Although several candidate drugs have been identified through in vitro and in vivo models, consistent and compelling evidence from clinical studies is limited. The lack of evidence from clinical trials may stem in part from the imperfect design of the trials. We investigated how clinical trials for antivirals need to be designed, especially focusing on the sample size in randomized controlled trials. Methods and findings A modeling study was conducted to help understand the reasons behind inconsistent clinical trial findings and to design better clinical trials. We first analyzed longitudinal viral load data for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) without antiviral treatment by use of a within-host virus dynamics model. The fitted viral load was categorized into 3 different groups by a clustering approach. Comparison of the estimated parameters showed that the 3 distinct groups were characterized by different virus decay rates ( p -value < 0.001). The mean decay rates were 1.17 d −1 (95% CI: 1.06 to 1.27 d −1 ), 0.777 d −1 (0.716 to 0.838 d −1 ), and 0.450 d −1 (0.378 to 0.522 d −1more ») for the 3 groups, respectively. Such heterogeneity in virus dynamics could be a confounding variable if it is associated with treatment allocation in compassionate use programs (i.e., observational studies). Subsequently, we mimicked randomized controlled trials of antivirals by simulation. An antiviral effect causing a 95% to 99% reduction in viral replication was added to the model. To be realistic, we assumed that randomization and treatment are initiated with some time lag after symptom onset. Using the duration of virus shedding as an outcome, the sample size to detect a statistically significant mean difference between the treatment and placebo groups (1:1 allocation) was 13,603 and 11,670 (when the antiviral effect was 95% and 99%, respectively) per group if all patients are enrolled regardless of timing of randomization. The sample size was reduced to 584 and 458 (when the antiviral effect was 95% and 99%, respectively) if only patients who are treated within 1 day of symptom onset are enrolled. We confirmed the sample size was similarly reduced when using cumulative viral load in log scale as an outcome. We used a conventional virus dynamics model, which may not fully reflect the detailed mechanisms of viral dynamics of SARS-CoV-2. The model needs to be calibrated in terms of both parameter settings and model structure, which would yield more reliable sample size calculation. Conclusions In this study, we found that estimated association in observational studies can be biased due to large heterogeneity in viral dynamics among infected individuals, and statistically significant effect in randomized controlled trials may be difficult to be detected due to small sample size. The sample size can be dramatically reduced by recruiting patients immediately after developing symptoms. We believe this is the first study investigated the study design of clinical trials for antiviral treatment using the viral dynamics model.« less
  5. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the cause of the coronavirus disease that began in 2019 (COVID-19), has been responsible for 1.4 million deaths worldwide as of 13 November 2020. Because at the time of writing no vaccine is yet available, a rapid diagnostic assay is very urgently needed. Herein, we present the development of anti-spike antibody attached gold nanoparticles for the rapid diagnosis of specific COVID-19 viral antigen or virus via a simple colorimetric change observation within a 5 minute time period. For rapid and highly sensitive identification, surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) was employed using 4-aminothiophenol as a reporter molecule, which is attached to the gold nanoparticle via an Au–S bond. In the presence of COVID-19 antigen or virus particles, owing to the antigen–antibody interaction, the gold nanoparticles undergo aggregation, changing color from pink to blue, which allows for the determination of the presence of antigen or virus very rapidly by the naked eye, even at concentrations of 1 nanogram (ng) per mL for COVID-19 antigen and 1000 virus particles per mL for SARS-CoV-2 spike protein pseudotyped baculovirus. Importantly, the aggregated gold nanoparticles form “hot spots” to provide very strong SERS signal enhancement from anti-spike antibody andmore »4-aminothiophenol attached gold nanoparticles via light–matter interactions. Finite-difference time-domain (FDTD) simulation data indicate a 4-orders-of-magnitude Raman enhancement in “hot spot” positions when gold nanoparticles form aggregates. Using a portable Raman analyzer, our reported data demonstrate that our antibody and 4-aminothiophenol attached gold nanoparticle-based SERS probe has the capability to detect COVID-19 antigen even at a concentration of 4 picograms (pg) per mL and virus at a concentration of 18 virus particles per mL within a 5 minute time period. Using HEK293T cells, which express angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), by which SARS-CoV-2 enters human cells, we show that anti-spike antibody attached gold nanoparticles have the capability to inhibit infection by the virus. Our reported data show that antibody attached gold nanoparticles bind to SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, thereby inhibiting the virus from binding to cell receptors, which stops virus infection and spread. It also has the capability to destroy the lipid membrane of the virus.« less