Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the causative agent of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Successful development of vaccines and antivirals against SARS-CoV-2 requires a comprehensive understanding of the essential proteins of the virus. The envelope (E) protein of SARS-CoV-2 assembles into a cation-selective channel that mediates virus budding, release, and host inflammation response. E blockage reduces virus pathogenicity while E deletion attenuates the virus. Here we report the 2.4 Å structure and drug-binding site of E’s transmembrane (TM) domain, determined using solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. In lipid bilayers that mimic the endoplasmic reticulum Golgi intermediate compartment (ERGIC) membrane, ETM forms a five-helix bundle surrounding a narrow central pore. The middle of the TM segment is distorted from the ideal a-helical geometry due to three regularly spaced phenylalanine residues, which stack within each helix and between neighboring helices. These aromatic interactions, together with interhelical Val and Leu interdigitation, cause a dehydrated pore compared to the viroporins of influenza and HIV viruses. Hexamethylene amiloride and amantadine bind shallowly to polar residues at the N-terminal lumen, while acidic pH affects the C-terminal conformation. These results indicate that SARS-CoV-2 E forms a structurally robust but bipartite channel whose N- and C-terminal halves can interact with drugs, ions and other viral and host proteins semi-independently. This structure establishes the atomic basis for designing E inhibitors as antiviral drugs against SARS-CoV-2.


Mandala VS, McKay MJ, Shcherbakov AA, Dregni AJ, Kolocouris A, Hong M. Structure and Drug Binding of the SARS-CoV-2 Envelope Protein in Phospholipid Bilayers. Res Sq [Preprint]. 2020 Sep 24:rs.3.rs-77124. doi: 10.21203/rs.3.rs-77124/v1. Update in: Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2020 Nov 11;: PMID: 32995764; PMCID: PMC7523133.