What Is SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein? How Does It Work?

Spike Protein

What Is SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein?

SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) is the virus behind the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Viruses including SARS-CoV-2 have the prominent biological characteristic when in presence of the spike proteins, they can penetrate the host and cause infection.

Coronavirus Structure

Coronavirus or CoVs like the MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) infected 2500 individuals in 2019, followed by the novel SARS-CoV-2. These are spherical viruses enveloped, measuring about 8- to 120 nanometers in diameter. The RNA genome of CoVs is 29 kilobytes, the longest among RNA viruses, and has about six to ten ORF (Open Reading Frames) carrying out the encoding of the replicase and structural protein of the virus.

While the viral genome is packed within a helical nucleocapsid and is surrounded by a lipid bilayer. The viral envelope is made up of three different proteins say membrane protein, envelope protein, and spike protein.

Spike Protein Functions

The Spike protein or S protein is highly glycosylated and large type I membrane fusion protein constituting about 1400 amino acids, usually depending on the specific virus. When the membrane and envelope protein are involved primarily in viruses, the spike protein plays a crucial role in penetrating and infecting the host.

The presence of spike proteins gives rise to the spike-shaped projections found on the virus’s surface. Spike proteins of CoVs divide themselves into two function-based units including the N-terminal S1 subunit, that forms the globular head of the protein, second being the C-terminal S2 subunit, forming the stalk of the protein. 

Upon host interaction, the S1 subunit functions to recognize and bind to receptors while the S2 subunit functions to fuse the envelope into the host’s membrane initiating penetration and hence infecting the host.

Targeting Viruses Via Spike Protein

Spike protein is prominent and without them, viruses like SARS-CoV-2 would not be able to interact with the hosts and fuse into the host’s membrane leading to the infection. Here, the spike protein represents itself as the ideal target for the vaccine and research for antiviruses.

In addition concerning the spike protein, in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, spike protein has been a major persuader to neutralizing antibodies (NAbs). The NAbs are protective antibodies present in the body produced by the humoral immune system. 

To target the anti-viral activity of the spike protein, NAbs bind to the viral particles preventing their host cell invasion. These NAbs are proven to target the S1 domain, invoking the interest of researchers to develop standardized agents blocking the binding and fusion of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to the host cell.

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