Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a lineage C betacoronavirus that since its emergence in 2012 has caused outbreaks in human populations with case-fatality rates of ∼36%. As in other coronaviruses, the spike (S) glycoprotein of MERS-CoV mediates receptor recognition and membrane fusion and is the primary target of the humoral immune response during infection. Here we use structure-based design to develop a generalizable strategy for retaining coronavirus S proteins in the antigenically optimal prefusion conformation and demonstrate that our engineered immunogen is able to elicit high neutralizing antibody titers against MERS-CoV. We also determined high-resolution structures of the trimeric MERS-CoV S ectodomain in complex with G4, a stem-directed neutralizing antibody. The structures reveal that G4 recognizes a glycosylated loop that is variable among coronaviruses and they define four conformational states of the trimer wherein each receptor-binding domain is either tightly packed at the membrane-distal apex or rotated into a receptor-accessible conformation. Our studies suggest a potential mechanism for fusion initiation through sequential receptor-binding events and provide a foundation for the structure-based design of coronavirus vaccines.
Keywords: X-ray crystallography; coronavirus; cryo-EM; neutralizing antibody; peplomer.