Structure of a protein that helps coronavirus replicate


The protein, called the envelope protein E, plays a key role in the virus’s ability to replicate itself and stimulate the host cell’s inflammation response.

  • If ways could be devised to block this pathway of the virus, it may help reduce the pathogenicity of the virus and interfere with viral replication.
  • The binding sites of two drugs that block the channel used by the envelope protein E.
  • These drugs bind weakly, however, and they would not be effective inhibitors of the E protein.
  • It is made of bundles of several helical proteins.
  • The researchers were able to clone and purify the E protein in two-and-a-half months.
  • They then analysed it with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy for two months. 
  • They found that the part of the E protein assembles into a bundle of five helices. 
  • The helices remain largely immobile within this bundle, creating a tight channel.
  • At one end of the channel, there were several amino acids that may attract positively charged ions such as calcium into the channel. 
  • The structure they have described is the closed state of the channel. 
  • The determination of the structure of the open state, which should shed light on how the channel opens and closes.
  • The researchers also found that two drugs — amantadine, used to treat influenza, and hexamethylene amiloride, used to treat high blood pressure — can block the entrance of the E channel. 
  • If stronger inhibitors could be developed, they could be potential drug candidates to treat Covid-19.
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