Architecture and self-assembly of the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Protein Sci (2020)


<p>The COVID-2019 pandemic is the most severe acute public health threat of the twenty-first century. To properly address this crisis with both robust testing and novel treatments, we require a deep understanding of the life cycle of the causative agent, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Here, we examine the architecture and self-assembly properties of the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein, which packages viral RNA into new virions. We determined a 1.4 Å resolution crystal structure of this protein&#39;s N2b domain, revealing a compact, intertwined dimer similar to that of related coronaviruses including SARS-CoV. While the N2b domain forms a dimer in solution, addition of the C-terminal spacer B/N3 domain mediates formation of a homotetramer. Using hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry, we find evidence that at least part of this putatively disordered domain is structured, potentially forming an α-helix that self-associates and cooperates with the N2b domain to mediate tetramer formation. Finally, we map the locations of amino acid substitutions in the N protein from over 38,000 SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences. We find that these substitutions are strongly clustered in the protein&#39;s N2a linker domain, and that substitutions within the N1b and N2b domains cluster away from their functional RNA binding and dimerization interfaces. Overall, this work reveals the architecture and self-assembly properties of a key protein in the SARS-CoV-2 life cycle, with implications for both drug design and antibody-based testing.</p>