Scientists discover guanine-specific pocket in SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein of therapeutic worth towards a number of coronaviruses
  • Reading time:5 min(s) read

In a current examine revealed in Communications Biology, researchers studied open and closed conformations of the C-terminal of extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) nucleocapsid (N) protein termed the NCTD. Additionally, they derived the crystal construction of the NCTD in advanced with guanine triphosphate (GTP).

Study: Identification of a guanine-specific pocket within the protein N of SARS-CoV-2. Image Credit: Naeblys/Shutterstock


One-third of the SARS-CoV-2 genome comprises open-reading frames (ORFs) for spike (S), membrane (M), envelope (E), N, and different accent proteins. Of these SARS-CoV-2 proteins, N boosts the efficacy of its transcription and meeting. Its NCTD binds genomic ribonucleic acid (gRNA) and interacts with SARS-CoV-2 M protein; therefore, research have implicated the NCTD for interacting with a conserved packaging sign (PS) required for SARS-CoV-2 RNA packaging. However, earlier research haven’t elucidated the specificity of the PS, the RNA constituents of the NCTD and their recognition course of.

About the examine      

In the current examine, researchers described SARS-CoV-2 NCTD buildings displaying its alpha-helical core with a protruding β-hairpin used for dimerization. Additionally, they characterised the SARS-CoV-2 NCTD-GTP binary advanced.

The authors hypothesized {that a} extremely conserved tryptophan residue W330 within the NCTD could possibly be an acceptable amino acid (AA) residue for RNA recognition. It may work together with phosphate moieties by way of π–π stacking with the nitrogen base. Further, the workforce characterised the GTP binding in answer utilizing the intrinsic fluorescence of tryptophan.

To affirm that the fluorescence of the W301 AA residue was additionally quenchable, the workforce made a mutant NCTD-W330A, changing W330 with alanine. Further, they decided the quenching of the fluorescence within the absence or presence of 0.5 millimolar (mM) of GTP. They additionally carried out differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) experiments with NCTD and NCTD-W330A within the presence or absence of 5 mM GTP. Furthermore, the researchers used microscale thermophoresis (MST) to measure the binding affinity (Okayd) for GTP of the NCTD and NCTD-W330A.  Lastly, they analyzed the binding of the NCTD to an RNA oligonucleotide derived from the apical area of the stem-loop 5a (SL5a) of SARS-CoV-2 gRNA.

Study findings

The crystallographic uneven unit of SARS-CoV-2 NCTD had two homodimers and 5 α-helices (α1–α5). A superimposition of its subunits confirmed a ≈5.5 angstroms (Å) β-hairpin motion. One subunit introduced the β-hairpin in an prolonged conformation, termed ‘open’, and the opposite in a flexed conformation, termed ‘closed’. The third β-hairpin conformation was implicated within the structural loop shift between AA residues 280 to 283 mendacity between α1 and α2. A 180° rotation of the facet chain of the W330 AA residue in direction of the β-hairpin made hydrophobic interactions with the facet chain of the AA residues S327 and T325, and that modified β-hairpin conformation from open to closed in favor of the interdimeric interplay.

Only the GTP co-crystallized with NCTD , forming a binary construction resolved in two completely different house teams, P21, and P1, with each having two protein dimers within the uneven unit. In closed conformation, GTP was certain to a cleft between the dimer subunits and adjoining the β-hairpin. The cleft adjoining and perpendicular to W330 residue lowered the tryptophan accessibility to the solvent. The electron density map of the binary advanced confirmed that the guanine (G) was anchored strongly to the NCTD, and the phosphate moietes had been extra versatile. Notably, different oxynucleotides, corresponding to uridine triphosphate (UTP), adenosine triphosphate (ATP), cytidine triphosphate (CTP), and so forth., didn’t co-crystallized with NCTD.

W301 AA residue partly hidden within the protein core confirmed a fluorescence peak. Its most fluorescence emission occurred at ~340 nm and decreased in parallel with the growing acrylamide focus, confirming the tryptophan fluorescence was quenchable. The outcomes confirmed that solely GTP affected the accessibility of W330 whereas ATP or UTP didn’t. Moreover, the NCTD introduced a sigmoidal trajectory with the adjustments in temperature whereas the mutant remained unaffected.

The NCTD and its mutant had a Okayd worth of 196 μM and 858 μM, respectively, within the presence of GTP. These values indicated the affinity of 1 nucleotide of a GTP molecule that binds RNA, not the synergistic impact of a number of nucleotide interactions. Phylogenetic research have pointed to the conservation of SL5a-c throughout alpha- and beta-coronaviruses, together with SARS-CoV-2. The NCTD particularly acknowledge the SL5a apical sequence from SARS-CoV-2, supporting the notion that this protein area is likely to be that area of the N protein that acknowledges particular options of coronavirus gRNA.

Further, the authors recognized fifteen invariant residues within the SARS-CoV-2 NCTD amongst human coronaviruses. Three of those residues, R259, R262, and F274, belonged to GTP binding pocket and R259 and R262 had been answerable for a number of hydrogen-bonding contacts with the β- and γ-phosphates. Since this GTP-binding pocket stays conserved throughout SARS-CoV-1, SARS-CoV-2, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and NL63, there’s a chance of utilizing the GTP binding pocket as a therapeutic goal. In truth, it’s possible to design particular compounds towards the SARS-CoV-2 NCTD.


The present crystal construction and biochemical assays revealed a selected interplay between the G, a nucleotide enriched within the PS areas of alpha- and beta-coronaviruses, and W330 AA residue. In addition, SARS-CoV-2 derived RNA hairpin SLs confirmed a preferential interplay of the NCTD to G-containing RNA oligonucleotides and the lack of specificity within the mutant W330A. Since these NCTD interactions facilitate the SARS-CoV-2 meeting course of, the examine outcomes point out that the GTP-binding pocket within the viral N protein would possibly assist design SARS-CoV-2 meeting inhibitors.

Journal reference:

  • Rafael Ciges-Tomas, J., Franco, M.L. & Vilar, M. (2022). Identification of a guanine-specific pocket within the protein N of SARS-CoV-2. doi:

If you are interested in working in a distraction free environment, visit our site Blissful Noises where we provide various sounds and features to help you focus or relax.