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ACS Infect Dis ; 7(11): 2948-2952, 2021 11 12.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1454713


The tragic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to admirable responses by the global scientific community, including a profound acceleration in the pace of research and exchange of findings. However, this has had considerable costs of its own, as erroneous conclusions have propagated faster than researchers have been able to detect and correct them. We illustrate the specific misunderstandings that have resulted from reductionist approaches to the study of SARS-CoV-2 RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), which are but one instance of a regrettably growing trend in structural biology. Far from merely being cautionary tales about the conduct of scientific research, these errors have had significant practical impact, by hampering a correct understanding of RdRp structure and mechanism, its inhibition by nucleoside analogues such as remdesivir, and the discovery and characterization of such analogues. After correcting these misunderstandings, we close with several recommendations for a broader correction of the course of scientific research.

COVID-19 , RNA, Viral , Antiviral Agents , Biology , Humans , Pandemics , SARS-CoV-2
Nucleic Acids Res ; 49(15): 8822-8835, 2021 09 07.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1343703


The catalytic subunit of SARS-CoV-2 RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) contains two active sites that catalyze nucleotidyl-monophosphate transfer (NMPylation). Mechanistic studies and drug discovery have focused on RNA synthesis by the highly conserved RdRp. The second active site, which resides in a Nidovirus RdRp-Associated Nucleotidyl transferase (NiRAN) domain, is poorly characterized, but both catalytic reactions are essential for viral replication. One study showed that NiRAN transfers NMP to the first residue of RNA-binding protein nsp9; another reported a structure of nsp9 containing two additional N-terminal residues bound to the NiRAN active site but observed NMP transfer to RNA instead. We show that SARS-CoV-2 RdRp NMPylates the native but not the extended nsp9. Substitutions of the invariant NiRAN residues abolish NMPylation, whereas substitution of a catalytic RdRp Asp residue does not. NMPylation can utilize diverse nucleotide triphosphates, including remdesivir triphosphate, is reversible in the presence of pyrophosphate, and is inhibited by nucleotide analogs and bisphosphonates, suggesting a path for rational design of NiRAN inhibitors. We reconcile these and existing findings using a new model in which nsp9 remodels both active sites to alternately support initiation of RNA synthesis by RdRp or subsequent capping of the product RNA by the NiRAN domain.

Nidovirales/enzymology , Nucleotides/metabolism , Protein Domains , RNA-Binding Proteins/chemistry , RNA-Binding Proteins/metabolism , RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase/chemistry , RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase/metabolism , SARS-CoV-2/enzymology , Viral Nonstructural Proteins/chemistry , Viral Nonstructural Proteins/metabolism , Amino Acid Sequence , Catalytic Domain , Coenzymes/metabolism , Coronavirus RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase/metabolism , Diphosphates/pharmacology , Diphosphonates/pharmacology , Guanosine Triphosphate/metabolism , Manganese , Models, Molecular , Nidovirales/chemistry , RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase/antagonists & inhibitors , Uridine Triphosphate/metabolism
mBio ; 12(3): e0142321, 2021 06 29.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1280400


The catalytic subunit of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) Nsp12 has a unique nidovirus RdRp-associated nucleotidyltransferase (NiRAN) domain that transfers nucleoside monophosphates to the Nsp9 protein and the nascent RNA. The NiRAN and RdRp modules form a dynamic interface distant from their catalytic sites, and both activities are essential for viral replication. We report that codon-optimized (for the pause-free translation in bacterial cells) Nsp12 exists in an inactive state in which NiRAN-RdRp interactions are broken, whereas translation by slow ribosomes and incubation with accessory Nsp7/8 subunits or nucleoside triphosphates (NTPs) partially rescue RdRp activity. Our data show that adenosine and remdesivir triphosphates promote the synthesis of A-less RNAs, as does ppGpp, while amino acid substitutions at the NiRAN-RdRp interface augment activation, suggesting that ligand binding to the NiRAN catalytic site modulates RdRp activity. The existence of allosterically linked nucleotidyl transferase sites that utilize the same substrates has important implications for understanding the mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 replication and the design of its inhibitors. IMPORTANCE In vitro interrogations of the central replicative complex of SARS-CoV-2, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), by structural, biochemical, and biophysical methods yielded an unprecedented windfall of information that, in turn, instructs drug development and administration, genomic surveillance, and other aspects of the evolving pandemic response. They also illuminated the vast disparity in the methods used to produce RdRp for experimental work and the hidden impact that this has on enzyme activity and research outcomes. In this report, we elucidate the positive and negative effects of codon optimization on the activity and folding of the recombinant RdRp and detail the design of a highly sensitive in vitro assay of RdRp-dependent RNA synthesis. Using this assay, we demonstrate that RdRp is allosterically activated by nontemplating phosphorylated nucleotides, including naturally occurring alarmone ppGpp and synthetic remdesivir triphosphate.

Adenosine Triphosphate/analogs & derivatives , Antiviral Agents/pharmacology , Coronavirus RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase/metabolism , Guanosine Tetraphosphate/pharmacology , SARS-CoV-2/drug effects , Adenosine Triphosphate/pharmacology , COVID-19/drug therapy , Catalytic Domain/physiology , Coronavirus RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase/genetics , Humans , Ribosomes/metabolism