The recent emergence of the pathogen severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the etiological agent for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is causing a global pandemic that poses enormous challenges to global public health and economies. SARS-CoV-2 host cell entry is mediated by the interaction of the viral transmembrane spike glycoprotein (S-protein) with the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 gene (ACE2), an essential counter-regulatory carboxypeptidase of the renin-angiotensin hormone system that is a critical regulator of blood volume, systemic vascular resistance, and thus cardiovascular homeostasis. Accordingly, this work reports an atomistic-based, reliable in silico structural and energetic framework of the interactions between the receptor-binding domain of the SARS-CoV-2 S-protein and its host cellular receptor ACE2 that provides qualitative and quantitative insights into the main molecular determinants in virus/receptor recognition. In particular, residues D38, K31, E37, K353, and Y41 on ACE2 and Q498, T500, and R403 on the SARS-CoV-2 S-protein receptor-binding domain are determined as true hot spots, contributing to shaping and determining the stability of the relevant protein-protein interface. Overall, these results could be used to estimate the binding affinity of the viral protein to different allelic variants of ACE2 receptors discovered in COVID-19 patients and for the effective structure-based design and development of neutralizing antibodies, vaccines, and protein/protein inhibitors against this terrible new coronavirus.
Keywords: ACE2; SARS-CoV-2 spike protein; computational alanine-scanning mutagenesis; free energy of binding; molecular dynamics; molecular mechanics/Poisson−Boltzmann surface area; receptor-binding domain.