The transmembrane oligomers of coronavirus protein E

Biophys J. 2005 Feb;88(2):1283-90. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.104.051730.


We have tested the hypothesis that severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus protein E (SCoVE) and its homologs in other coronaviruses associate through their putative transmembrane domain to form homooligomeric alpha-helical bundles in vivo. For this purpose, we have analyzed the results of molecular dynamics simulations where all possible conformational and aggregational space was systematically explored. Two main assumptions were considered; the first is that protein E contains one transmembrane alpha-helical domain, with its N- and C-termini located in opposite faces of the lipid bilayer. The second is that protein E forms the same type of transmembrane oligomer and with identical backbone structure in different coronaviruses. The models arising from the molecular dynamics simulations were tested for evolutionary conservation using 13 coronavirus protein E homologous sequences. It is extremely unlikely that if any of our assumptions were not correct we would find a persistent structure for all the sequences tested. We show that a low energy dimeric, trimeric and two pentameric models appear to be conserved through evolution, and are therefore likely to be present in vivo. In support of this, we have observed only dimeric, trimeric, and pentameric aggregates for the synthetic transmembrane domain of SARS protein E in SDS. The models obtained point to residues essential for protein E oligomerization in the life cycle of the SARS virus, specifically N15. In addition, these results strongly support a general model where transmembrane domains transiently adopt many aggregation states necessary for function.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dimerization
  • Lipid Bilayers / chemistry*
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Multiprotein Complexes / analysis
  • Multiprotein Complexes / chemistry*
  • Multiprotein Complexes / ultrastructure*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / analysis
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / chemistry*
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / ultrastructure*


  • E protein, SARS coronavirus
  • Lipid Bilayers
  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Viral Envelope Proteins