Exquisitely Seeing How Coronaviruses Attach to Human Cells
With so much information swirling around these days about the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, it would be easy to miss one of the most interesting and significant basic science reports of the past few weeks.
According to Dr. Francis Collins, with the National Institutes Health, a paper published in the journal Science presents an atomic-scale snapshot showing the 3D structure of the spike protein on the novel coronavirus attached to a human cell surface protein angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, called ACE2.
Dr. Collins said on April 2, 2020, the ACE2 is the receptor that this coronavirus uses to gain entry into a human.
What makes this image such a big deal is that it shows—in exquisite detail—how the coronavirus attaches to human cells before infecting them and making people sick.
The structural map of this interaction will help guide drug developers, atom by atom, in devising safe and effective ways to treat COVID-19 disease.
This new work, conducted by a team led by Qiang Zhou, Westlake Institute for Advanced Study, Hangzhou, China, took advantage of a high-resolution imaging tool called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM).
This approach involves flash-freezing molecules in liquid nitrogen and bombarding them with electrons to capture their images with a special camera.
When all goes well, cryo-EM can solve the structure of intricate macromolecular complexes in a matter of days, including this one showing the interaction between a viral protein and human protein.
Zhou’s team began by mapping the structure of human ACE2 in a complex with B0AT1, which is a membrane protein that it helps to fold.
In the context of this complex, ACE2 is a dimer—a scientific term for a compound composed of two very similar units.
Additional mapping revealed how the surface protein of the novel coronavirus interacts with ACE2, indicating how the virus’s two trimeric (3-unit) spike proteins might bind to an ACE2 dimer.
After confirmation by further research, these maps may well provide a basis for the design and development of therapeutics that specifically target this critical interaction.
COVID-19 disease news published by Coronavirus Today.