MOV10 Helicase Interacts with Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Protein and Has Antiviral Activity

mBio. 2021 Oct 26;12(5):e0131621. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01316-21. Epub 2021 Sep 14.


Coronaviruses (CoVs) are emergent pathogens that may cause life-threatening respiratory diseases in humans. Understanding of CoV-host interactions may help to identify novel therapeutic targets. MOV10 is an RNA helicase involved in different steps of cellular RNA metabolism. Both MOV10 antiviral and proviral activities have been described in a limited number of viruses, but this protein has not been previously associated with CoVs. We found that during Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection, MOV10 aggregated in cytoplasmic structures colocalizing with viral nucleocapsid (N) protein. MOV10-N interaction was confirmed by endogenous MOV10 coimmunoprecipitation, and the presence of other cellular proteins was also detected in MOV10 complexes. MOV10 silencing significantly increased both N protein accumulation and virus titer, with no changes in the accumulation of viral RNAs. Moreover, MOV10 overexpression caused a 10-fold decrease in viral titers. These data indicated that MOV10 has antiviral activity during MERS-CoV infection. We postulated that this activity could be mediated by viral RNA sequestration, and in fact, RNA immunoprecipitation data showed the presence of viral RNAs in the MOV10 cytoplasmic complexes. Expression of wild-type MOV10 or of a MOV10 mutant without helicase activity in MOV10 knockout cell lines, developed by CRISPR-Cas technology, indicated that the helicase activity of MOV10 was required for its antiviral effect. Interestingly MOV10-N interaction was conserved in other mildly or highly pathogenic human CoVs, including the recently emerged severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), although MOV10 antiviral activity was found only in highly pathogenic CoVs, suggesting a potential role of MOV10 in the modulation of human CoVs pathogenesis. IMPORTANCE Coronaviruses (CoVs) are emerging pathogens causing life-threatening diseases in humans. Knowledge of virus-host interactions and viral subversion mechanisms of host pathways is required for the development of effective countermeasures against CoVs. The interaction between cellular RNA helicase MOV10 and nucleocapsid (N) protein from several human CoVs is shown. Using MERS-CoV as a model, we demonstrate that MOV10 has antiviral function, requiring its helicase activity, most likely mediated by viral RNA sequestration in cytoplasmic ribonucleoprotein structures. Furthermore, we found that MOV10 antiviral activity may act only in highly pathogenic human CoVs, suggesting a role for MOV10 in modulating CoVs pathogenesis. The present study uncovers a complex network of viral and cellular RNAs and proteins interaction modulating the antiviral response against CoVs.

Keywords: antiviral response; coronavirus; highly pathogenic coronavirus; nucleocapsid protein; virus-host interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins / metabolism*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Humans
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • RNA Helicases / metabolism*
  • RNA Helicases / pharmacology*
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism
  • Vero Cells
  • Virus Replication / drug effects


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins
  • RNA, Viral
  • RNA Helicases