SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein phase separates with G3BPs to disassemble stress granules and facilitate viral production

Sci Bull (Beijing). 2021 Jun 30;66(12):1194-1204. doi: 10.1016/j.scib.2021.01.013. Epub 2021 Jan 19.


A key to tackling the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is to understand how severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) manages to outsmart host antiviral defense mechanisms. Stress granules (SGs), which are assembled during viral infection and function to sequester host and viral mRNAs and proteins, are part of the antiviral responses. Here, we show that the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid (N) protein, an RNA binding protein essential for viral production, interacted with Ras-GTPase-activating protein SH3-domain-binding protein (G3BP) and disrupted SG assembly, both of which require intrinsically disordered region1 (IDR1) in N protein. The N protein partitioned into SGs through liquid-liquid phase separation with G3BP, and blocked the interaction of G3BP1 with other SG-related proteins. Moreover, the N protein domains important for phase separation with G3BP and SG disassembly were required for SARS-CoV-2 viral production. We propose that N protein-mediated SG disassembly is crucial for SARS-CoV-2 production.

Keywords: G3BP; Liquid-liquid phase separation; Nucleocapsid protein; SARS-CoV-2; Stress granules; Viral production.