Human coronavirus 3CL proteases cleave septins and disrupt Hedgehog signaling, causing ciliary dysfunction

J Med Virol. 2023 Mar;95(3):e28618. doi: 10.1002/jmv.28618.


Coronaviruses target ciliate cells causing the loss of cilia, acute rhinorrheas, and other ciliopathies. The loss of ciliary function may help the virus infect, replicate, and spread. However, the molecular mechanisms by which coronaviruses cause ciliary defects are still unclear. Herein we demonstrate how coronavirus infection and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus2 3CL protease induce cilia dysfunction by targeting a host protein septin that is required for the structure and function of cilia. Further, we demonstrate that coronaviruses and 3CL protease lead to the cleavage of several septin proteins (SEPT2, -6, and -9), producing cleaved obstructive fragments. Furthermore, ectopic expression of cleaved SEPT2 fragments shows defective ciliogenesis, disoriented septin filaments, and ablated Sonic Hedgehog (SHH) signaling in a protease activity-dependent manner. We present that the 3CLpro inhibitors are potent and prevent abnormal ciliary structures and SHH signaling. These results provide useful insights into the general mechanisms underlying ciliary defects caused by coronaviruses, which, in turn, facilitate virus spread and prove that preclinical and clinical 3CL protease inhibitors may prove useful as therapeutics for treating ciliary defects of coronaviruses.

Keywords: 3CL protease; HCoV-OC43; SARS-CoV-2; cilia; coronavirus; septin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Protease Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Septins* / genetics
  • Septins* / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Septins
  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • Peptide Hydrolases
  • Endopeptidases
  • Protease Inhibitors