Functional binding dynamics relevant to the evolution of zoonotic spillovers in endemic and emergent Betacoronavirus strains

J Biomol Struct Dyn. 2022;40(21):10978-10996. doi: 10.1080/07391102.2021.1953604. Epub 2021 Jul 21.


Comparative functional analysis of the dynamic interactions between various Betacoronavirus mutant strains and broadly utilized target proteins such as ACE2 and CD26, is crucial for a more complete understanding of zoonotic spillovers of viruses that cause diseases such as COVID-19. Here, we employ machine learning to replicated sets of nanosecond scale GPU accelerated molecular dynamics simulations to statistically compare and classify atom motions of these target proteins in both the presence and absence of different endemic and emergent strains of the viral receptor binding domain (RBD) of the S spike glycoprotein. A multi-agent classifier successfully identified functional binding dynamics that are evolutionarily conserved from bat CoV-HKU4 to human endemic/emergent strains. Conserved dynamics regions of ACE2 involve both the N-terminal helices, as well as a region of more transient dynamics encompassing residues K353, Q325 and a novel motif AAQPFLL 386-92 that appears to coordinate their dynamic interactions with the viral RBD at N501. We also demonstrate that the functional evolution of Betacoronavirus zoonotic spillovers involving ACE2 interaction dynamics are likely pre-adapted from two precise and stable binding sites involving the viral bat progenitor strain's interaction with CD26 at SAMLI 291-5 and SS 333-334. Our analyses further indicate that the human endemic strains hCoV-HKU1 and hCoV-OC43 have evolved more stable N-terminal helix interactions through enhancement of an interfacing loop region on the viral RBD, whereas the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants (B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1) have evolved more stable viral binding via more focused interactions between the viral N501 and ACE2 K353 alone.Communicated by Ramaswamy H. Sarma.

Keywords: COVID 19; Molecular dynamics; molecular evolution; viral binding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 / genetics
  • Animals
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • Binding Sites
  • Chiroptera* / virology
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4
  • Humans
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A / chemistry
  • Protein Binding
  • Receptors, Virus / chemistry
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus* / chemistry
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus* / genetics
  • Zoonoses* / virology


  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4
  • Peptidyl-Dipeptidase A
  • Receptors, Virus
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants