Crystal structure of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein RNA binding domain reveals potential unique drug targeting sites

Acta Pharm Sin B. 2020 Jul;10(7):1228-1238. doi: 10.1016/j.apsb.2020.04.009. Epub 2020 Apr 20.


The outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus continually lead to worldwide human infections and deaths. Currently, there is no specific viral protein-targeted therapeutics. Viral nucleocapsid protein is a potential antiviral drug target, serving multiple critical functions during the viral life cycle. However, the structural information of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein remains unclear. Herein, we have determined the 2.7 Å crystal structure of the N-terminal RNA binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein. Although the overall structure is similar as other reported coronavirus nucleocapsid protein N-terminal domain, the surface electrostatic potential characteristics between them are distinct. Further comparison with mild virus type HCoV-OC43 equivalent domain demonstrates a unique potential RNA binding pocket alongside the β-sheet core. Complemented by in vitro binding studies, our data provide several atomic resolution features of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein N-terminal domain, guiding the design of novel antiviral agents specific targeting to SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords: Antiviral targeting site; COVID-19; Coronavirus; Crystal structure; Nucleocapsid protein; RNA binding domain; SARS-CoV-2.