A trimerizing GxxxG Motif is uniquely inserted in the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus spike protein transmembrane domain

Eyal Arbely, Zvi Granot, Itamar Kass, Joseph Orly, Isaiah T. Arkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations

Abstract

In an attempt to understand what distinguishes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SCoV) from other members of the coronaviridae, we searched for elements that are unique to its proteins and not present in any other family member. We identified an insertion of two glycine residues, forming the GxxxG motif, in the SCoV spike protein transmembrane domain (TMD), which is not found in any other coronavirus. This surprising finding raises an "oligomerization riddle": the GxxxG motif is a known dimerization signal, while the SCoV spike protein is known to be trimeric. Using an in vivo assay, we found that the SCoV spike protein TMD is oligomeric and that this oligomerization is driven by the GxxxG motif. We also found that the GxxxG motif contributes toward the trimerization of the entire spike protein; in that, mutations in the GxxxG motif decrease trimerization of the full-length protein expressed in mammalian cells. Using molecular modeling, we show that the SCoV spike protein TMD adopts a distinct and unique structure as opposed to all other coronaviruses. In this unique structure, the glycine residues of the GxxxG motif are facing each other, enhancing helix-helix interactions by allowing for the close positioning of the helices. This unique orientation of the glycine residues also stabilizes the trimeric bundle during multi-nanosecond molecular dynamics simulation in a hydrated lipid bilayer. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that the GxxxG motif can potentiate other oligomeric forms beside a dimer. Finally, according to recent studies, the stabilization of the trimeric bundle is linked to a higher fusion activity of the spike protein, and the possible influence of the GxxxG motif on this feature is discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11349-11356
Number of pages8
JournalBiochemistry
Volume45
Issue number38
DOIs
StatePublished - 26 Sep 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry

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