Real-time conformational dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 spikes on virus particles

bioRxiv. 2020 Sep 13:2020.09.10.286948. doi: 10.1101/2020.09.10.286948. Preprint.


SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) mediates entry into cells and is critical for vaccine development against COVID-19. S is synthesized as a precursor, processed into S1 and S2 by furin proteases, and activated for fusion when human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) engages the receptor-binding domain (RBD) and when the N-terminus of S2 is proteolytically processed. Structures of soluble ectodomains and native virus particles have revealed distinct conformations of S, including a closed trimer with all RBD oriented downward, trimers with one or two RBDs up, and hACE2-stabilized conformations with up to three RBD oriented up. Real-time information that connects these structures, however, has been lacking. Here we apply single-molecule Forster Resonance Energy Transfer (smFRET) imaging to observe conformational dynamics of S on virus particles. Virus-associated S dynamically samples at least four distinct conformational states. In response to hACE2, S opens into the hACE2-bound S conformation through at least one on-path intermediate, with trypsin partially activating S. Conformational preferences of convalescent patient plasma and monoclonal antibodies suggest mechanisms of neutralization involving either direct competition with hACE2 for binding to RBD or allosteric interference with conformational changes required for entry. Our findings inform on mechanisms of S recognition and on conformations for immunogen design.

PMID:32935100 | PMC:PMC7491513 | DOI:10.1101/2020.09.10.286948