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  1. The s2m, a highly conserved 41-nt hairpin structure in the SARS-CoV-2 genome, serves as an attractive therapeutic target that may have important roles in the virus life cycle or interactions with the host. However, the conserved s2m in Delta SARS-CoV-2, a previously dominant variant characterized by high infectivity and disease severity, has received relatively less attention than that of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. The focus of this work is to identify and define the s2m changes between Delta and SARS-CoV-2 and the subsequent impact of those changes upon the s2m dimerization and interactions with the host microRNA miR-1307-3p. Bioinformatics analysis of the GISAID database targeting the s2m element reveals a >99% correlation of a single nucleotide mutation at the 15th position (G15U) in Delta SARS-CoV-2. Based on1H NMR spectroscopy assignments comparing the imino proton resonance region of s2m and the s2m G15U at 19°C, we show that the U15–A29 base pair closes, resulting in a stabilization of the upper stem without overall secondary structure deviation. Increased stability of the upper stem did not affect the chaperone activity of the viral N protein, as it was still able to convert the kissing dimers formed by s2m G15U into a stable duplex conformation, consistent with the s2m reference. However, we show that the s2m G15U mutation drastically impacts the binding of host miR-1307-3p. These findings demonstrate that the observed G15U mutation alters the secondary structure of s2m with subsequent impact on viral binding of host miR-1307-3p, with potential consequences on immune responses.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 16, 2024