This article was originally published here
Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2021 Jan 14;541:50-55. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2021.01.018. Online ahead of print.
SARS-CoV-2 is a highly contagious coronavirus causing the ongoing pandemic. Very recently its genomic RNA of ∼30 kb was decoded to be packaged with nucleocapsid (N) protein into phase separated condensates. Interestingly, viruses have no ability to generate ATP but host cells have very high ATP concentrations of 2-12 mM. A key question thus arises whether ATP modulates liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) of the N protein. Here we discovered that ATP not only biphasically modulates LLPS of the viral N protein as we previously found on human FUS and TDP-43, but also dissolves the droplets induced by oligonucleic acid. Residue-specific NMR characterization showed ATP specifically binds the RNA-binding domain (RBD) of the N protein with the average Kd of 3.3 ± 0.4 mM. The ATP-RBD complex structure was constructed by NMR-derived constraints, in which ATP occupies a pocket within the positive-charged surface utilized for binding nucleic acids. Our study suggests that ATP appears to be exploited by SARS-CoV-2 to promote its life cycle by facilitating the uncoating, localizing and packing of its genomic RNA. Therefore the interactions of ATP with the viral RNA and N protein might represent promising targets for design of drugs and vaccines to terminate the pandemic.