Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) envelope (E) protein is a viroporin involved in virulence. E protein ion channel (IC) activity is specifically correlated with enhanced pulmonary damage, edema accumulation and death. IL-1β driven proinflammation is associated with those pathological signatures, however its link to IC activity remains unknown. In this report, we demonstrate that SARS-CoV E protein forms protein-lipid channels in ERGIC/Golgi membranes that are permeable to calcium ions, a highly relevant feature never reported before. Calcium ions together with pH modulated E protein pore charge and selectivity. Interestingly, E protein IC activity boosted the activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome, leading to IL-1β overproduction. Calcium transport through the E protein IC was the main trigger of this process. These findings strikingly link SARS-CoV E protein IC induced ionic disturbances at the cell level to immunopathological consequences and disease worsening in the infected organism.
Keywords: Calcium; Coronavirus; E protein; Inflammasome; Ion channel; Pathogenesis; SARS-CoV; Viroporin.
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