Published on Thu Feb 18 2021

Mutation N501Y in RBD of Spike Protein Strengthens the Interaction between COVID-19 and its Receptor ACE2

Tian, F., Tong, B., Sun, L., Shi, S., Zheng, B., Wang, Z., Dong, X., Zheng, P.

SARS-CoV-2 is spreading around the world for the past year. It is well established that the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein binds to the human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2)

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Abstract

SARS-CoV-2 is spreading around the world for the past year. Enormous efforts have been taken to understand its mechanism of transmission. It is well established now that the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein binds to the human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) as its first step of entry. Being a single-stranded RNA virus, SARS-CoV-2 is evolving rapidly. Recently, several variants such as B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1, with a key mutation N501Y on the RBD, appear to be more infectious to humans. To understand its mechanism, we combined cell surface binding assay, kinetics study, single-molecule technique, and computational method to investigate the interaction between these RBD (mutations) and ACE2. Remarkably, RBD with the N501Y mutation exhibited a considerably stronger interaction characterized from all these methodologies, while the other two mutations from B.1.351 contributed to a less effect. Fluorescence-activated cell scan (FACS) assays found that RBD N501Y mutations are of higher binding affinity to ACE2 than the wild type. Surface plasmon resonance further indicated that N501Y mutation had a faster association rate and slower dissociation rate. Consistent with the kinetics study, atomic force microscopy-based single-molecule force microscopy quantify their strength on living cells, showing a higher binding probability and unbinding force for the mutation. Finally, Steered Molecular Dynamics (SMD) simulations on the dissociation of RBD-ACE2 complexes revealed that the N501Y introduced additional {pi}-{pi} and {pi}-cation interaction for the higher force/interaction. Taken together, we suggested that the reinforced interaction from N501Y mutation in RBD should play an essential role in the higher transmission of COVID-19 variants.