Neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 by Destruction of the Prefusion Spike

Cell Host Microbe. 2020 Jun 19;S1931-3128(20)30351-6. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2020.06.010. Online ahead of print.


There are as yet no licensed therapeutics for the COVID-19 pandemic. The causal coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) binds host cells via a trimeric spike whose receptor binding domain (RBD) recognizes angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, initiating conformational changes that drive membrane fusion. We find that the monoclonal antibody CR3022 binds the RBD tightly, neutralizing SARS-CoV-2, and report the crystal structure at 2.4 Å of the Fab/RBD complex. Some crystals are suitable for screening for entry-blocking inhibitors. The highly conserved, structure-stabilizing CR3022 epitope is inaccessible in the prefusion spike, suggesting that CR3022 binding facilitates conversion to the fusion-incompetent post-fusion state. Cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) analysis confirms that incubation of spike with CR3022 Fab leads to destruction of the prefusion trimer. Presentation of this cryptic epitope in an RBD-based vaccine might advantageously focus immune responses. Binders at this epitope could be useful therapeutically, possibly in synergy with an antibody that blocks receptor attachment.

Keywords: CR3022; SARS-CoV-2; X-ray crystallography; antibody; cryo-electron microscopy; epitope; neutralization; receptor binding domain; spike; therapeutic.