Drug discovery campaigns against COVID-19 are beginning to target the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome. The highly conserved frameshift stimulation element (FSE), required for balanced expression of viral proteins, is a particularly attractive SARS-CoV-2 RNA target. Here we present a 6.9 Å resolution cryo-EM structure of the FSE (88 nucleotides, ~28 kDa), validated through an RNA nanostructure tagging method. The tertiary structure presents a topologically complex fold in which the 5' end is threaded through a ring formed inside a three-stem pseudoknot. Guided by this structure, we develop antisense oligonucleotides that impair FSE function in frameshifting assays and knock down SARS-CoV-2 virus replication in A549-ACE2 cells at 100 nM concentration.
© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature America, Inc.