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Cryo-EM structure of coronavirus-HKU1 haemagglutinin esterase reveals architectural changes arising from prolonged circulation in humans

By Daniel L. Hurdiss, Ieva Drulyte, Yifei Lang, Tatiana M. Shamorkina, Matti F. Pronker, Frank J.M. van Kuppeveld, Joost Snijder, Raoul J. de Groot

Posted 25 Mar 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.25.998963 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-18440-6)

The human betacoronaviruses HKU1 and OC43 (subgenus Embecovirus) arose from separate zoonotic introductions, OC43 relatively recently and HKU1 apparently much longer ago. Embecovirus particles are studded with two types of surface projections called S (for spike) and HE (for haemagglutinin-esterase), with S mediating receptor-binding and membrane fusion and HE acting as a receptor-destroying enzyme. Together, they promote dynamic virion attachment to glycan-based receptors with 9- O -acetylated sialic acid as main constituent. We recently showed that adaptation of HKU1 and OC43 to replication in the human respiratory tract involved loss-of-function mutations in the lectin domain of HE. Here we present the cryo-EM structure of the ∼80 kDa, heavily glycosylated HKU1 HE at a global resolution of 3.4 Å. Comparison to existing HE structures reveals a drastically truncated lectin domain, incompatible with sialic acid binding, but with the structure and function of the HE esterase domain left intact. Our cryo-EM structure, in combination with mass spectrometry analysis, also describes the extent of glycosylation on the now redundant lectin domain, which forms a putative glycan shield. The findings further our insight into the evolution and host adaptation of human embecoviruses and also demonstrate the utility of cryo-EM for studying small, heavily glycosylated proteins which are intractable to X-ray crystallography.

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