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Shielding and Beyond: The Roles of Glycans in SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein

OPEN bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology | 25 Jun 2020

L Casalino, Z Gaieb, AC Dommer, AM Harbison, CA Fogarty, EP Barros, BC Taylor, E Fadda and RE Amaro
Abstract
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has resulted in more than 7,000,000 infections and 400,000 deaths worldwide to date. Antibody development efforts mainly revolve around the extensively glycosylated SARSCoV-2 spike (S) protein, which mediates the host cell entry by binding to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). In the context of vaccine design, similar to many other viruses, the SARS-CoV-2 spike utilizes a glycan shield to thwart the host immune response. Here, we built a full-length model of glycosylated SARS-CoV-2 S protein, both in the open and closed states, augmenting the available structural and biological data. Multiple microsecond-long, all-atom molecular dynamics simulations were used to provide an atomistic perspective on the glycan shield and the protein structure, stability, and dynamics. End-to-end accessibility analyses outline a complete overview of the vulnerabilities of the glycan shield of SARS-CoV-2 S protein, which can be harnessed for vaccine development. In addition, a dynamic analysis of the main antibody epitopes is provided. Finally, beyond shielding, a possible structural role of N-glycans at N165 and N234 is hypothesized to modulate and stabilize the conformational dynamics of the spike’s receptor binding domain, which is responsible for ACE2 recognition. Overall, this work presents hitherto unseen functional and structural insights into the SARS-CoV-2 S protein and its glycan coat, which may be exploited by therapeutic efforts targeting this essential molecular machine.
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