Effect of clinical isolate or cleavage site mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein on protein stability, cleavage, and cell-cell fusion.J Biol Chem. 2021 Jul; 297(1):100902.JB
The trimeric severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike protein (S) is the sole viral protein responsible for both viral binding to a host cell and the membrane fusion event needed for cell entry. In addition to facilitating fusion needed for viral entry, S can also drive cell-cell fusion, a pathogenic effect observed in the lungs of SARS-CoV-2-infected patients. While several studies have investigated S requirements involved in viral particle entry, examination of S stability and factors involved in S cell-cell fusion remain limited. A furin cleavage site at the border between the S1 and S2 subunits (S1/S2) has been identified, along with putative cathepsin L and transmembrane serine protease 2 cleavage sites within S2. We demonstrate that S must be processed at the S1/S2 border in order to mediate cell-cell fusion and that mutations at potential cleavage sites within the S2 subunit alter S processing at the S1/S2 border, thus preventing cell-cell fusion. We also identify residues within the internal fusion peptide and the cytoplasmic tail that modulate S-mediated cell-cell fusion. In addition, we examined S stability and protein cleavage kinetics in a variety of mammalian cell lines, including a bat cell line related to the likely reservoir species for SARS-CoV-2, and provide evidence that proteolytic processing alters the stability of the S trimer. This work therefore offers insight into S stability, proteolytic processing, and factors that mediate S cell-cell fusion, all of which help give a more comprehensive understanding of this high-profile therapeutic target.