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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

All Domains of SARS-CoV-2 nsp1 Determine Translational Shutoff and Cytotoxicity of the Protein

Frolov, Ilya; Agback, Tatiana; Palchevska, Oksana; Dominguez, Francisco; Lomzov, Alexander; Agback, Peter; Frolova, Elena I.

Abstract

The nsp1 of SARS-CoV-2 is a multifunctional protein that modifies the intracellular environment for the needs of viral replication. It is responsible for the development of translational shutoff, and its expression alone is sufficient to cause a cytopathic effect (CPE).Replication of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) strongly affects cellular metabolism and results in rapid development of the cytopathic effect (CPE). The hallmarks of virus-induced modifications are inhibition of translation of cellular mRNAs and redirection of the cellular translational machinery to the synthesis of virus-specific proteins. The multifunctional nonstructural protein 1 (nsp1) of SARS-CoV-2 is a major virulence factor and a key contributor to the development of translational shutoff. In this study, we applied a wide range of virological and structural approaches to further analyze nsp1 functions. The expression of this protein alone was found to be sufficient to cause CPE. However, we selected several nsp1 mutants exhibiting noncytopathic phenotypes. The attenuating mutations were detected in three clusters, located in the C-terminal helices, in one of the loops of the structured domain and in the junction of the disordered and structured fragment of nsp1. NMR-based analysis of the wild type nsp1 and its mutants did not confirm the existence of a stable beta 5-strand that was proposed by the X-ray structure. In solution, this protein appears to be present in a dynamic conformation, which is required for its functions in CPE development and viral replication. The NMR data also suggest a dynamic interaction between the N-terminal and C-terminal domains. The identified nsp1 mutations make this protein noncytotoxic and incapable of inducing translational shutoff, but they do not result in deleterious effects on viral cytopathogenicity.IMPORTANCE The nsp1 of SARS-CoV-2 is a multifunctional protein that modifies the intracellular environment for the needs of viral replication. It is responsible for the development of translational shutoff, and its expression alone is sufficient to cause a cytopathic effect (CPE). In this study, we selected a wide range of nsp1 mutants exhibiting noncytopathic phenotypes. The attenuating mutations, clustered in three different fragments of nsp1, were extensively characterized via virological and structural methods. Our data strongly suggest interactions between the nsp1 domains, which are required for the protein's functions in CPE development. Most of the mutations made nsp1 noncytotoxic and incapable of inducing translational shutoff. Most of them did not affect the viability of the viruses, but they did decrease the rates of replication in cells competent in type I IFN induction and signaling. These mutations, and their combinations, in particular, can be used for the development of SARS-CoV-2 variants with attenuated phenotypes.

Keywords

SARS-CoV-2; attenuating mutations; coronavirus; cytotoxicity; nsp1; nuclear magnetic resonance; protein structure-function; translation inhibition

Published in

Journal of Virology
2023, Volume: 97, number: 3, article number: e01865-22
Publisher: AMER SOC MICROBIOLOGY