The coding capacity of SARS-CoV-2

Nature. 2021 Jan;589(7840):125-130. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2739-1. Epub 2020 Sep 9.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the cause of the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic1. To understand the pathogenicity and antigenic potential of SARS-CoV-2 and to develop therapeutic tools, it is essential to profile the full repertoire of its expressed proteins. The current map of SARS-CoV-2 coding capacity is based on computational predictions and relies on homology with other coronaviruses. As the protein complement varies among coronaviruses, especially in regard to the variety of accessory proteins, it is crucial to characterize the specific range of SARS-CoV-2 proteins in an unbiased and open-ended manner. Here, using a suite of ribosome-profiling techniques2-4, we present a high-resolution map of coding regions in the SARS-CoV-2 genome, which enables us to accurately quantify the expression of canonical viral open reading frames (ORFs) and to identify 23 unannotated viral ORFs. These ORFs include upstream ORFs that are likely to have a regulatory role, several in-frame internal ORFs within existing ORFs, resulting in N-terminally truncated products, as well as internal out-of-frame ORFs, which generate novel polypeptides. We further show that viral mRNAs are not translated more efficiently than host mRNAs; instead, virus translation dominates host translation because of the high levels of viral transcripts. Our work provides a resource that will form the basis of future functional studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Genome, Viral / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics*
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Ribosomes / metabolism
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / metabolism
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity
  • Viral Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Viral Proteins / genetics*
  • Viral Proteins / metabolism


  • Peptides
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Viral
  • Viral Proteins