Proteolytic activation of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.Microbiol Immunol. 2022 Jan; 66(1):15-23.MI
Spike (S) protein cleavage is a crucial step in coronavirus infection. In this review, this process is discussed, with particular focus on the novel coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Compared with influenza virus and paramyxovirus membrane fusion proteins, the cleavage activation mechanism of coronavirus S protein is much more complex. The S protein has two cleavage sites (S1/S2 and S2'), and the cleavage motif for furin protease at the S1/S2 site that results from a unique four-amino acid insertion is one of the distinguishing features of SARS-CoV-2. The viral particle incorporates the S protein, which has already undergone S1/S2 cleavage by furin, and then undergoes further cleavage at the S2' site, mediated by the type II transmembrane serine protease transmembrane protease serine 2 (TMPRSS2), after binding to the receptor angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) to facilitate membrane fusion at the plasma membrane. In addition, SARS-CoV-2 can enter the cell by endocytosis and be proteolytically activated by cathepsin L, although this is not a major mode of SARS-CoV-2 infection. SARS-CoV-2 variants with enhanced infectivity have been emerging throughout the ongoing pandemic, and there is a close relationship between enhanced infectivity and changes in S protein cleavability. All four variants of concern carry the D614G mutation, which indirectly enhances S1/S2 cleavability by furin. The P681R mutation of the delta variant directly increases S1/S2 cleavability, enhancing membrane fusion and SARS-CoV-2 virulence. Changes in S protein cleavability can significantly impact viral infectivity, tissue tropism, and virulence. Understanding these mechanisms is critical to counteracting the coronavirus pandemic.