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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 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.  more » « less
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Lee, Benhur
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National Science Foundation
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