Multiple Roles of SARS-CoV-2 N Protein Facilitated by Proteoform-Specific Interactions with RNA, Host Proteins, and Convalescent Antibodies.
Lutomski CA., El-Baba TJ., Bolla JR., Robinson CV.
The SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid (N) protein is a highly immunogenic viral protein that plays essential roles in replication and virion assembly. Here, using native mass spectrometry, we show that dimers are the functional unit of ribonucleoprotein assembly and that N protein binds RNA with a preference for GGG motifs, a common motif in coronavirus packaging signals. Unexpectedly, proteolytic processing of N protein resulted in the formation of additional proteoforms. The N-terminal proteoforms bind RNA, with the same preference for GGG motifs, and bind to cyclophilin A, an interaction which can be abolished by approved immunosuppressant cyclosporin A. Furthermore, N proteoforms showed significantly different interactions with IgM, IgG, and IgA antibodies from convalescent plasma. Notably, the C-terminal proteoform exhibited a heightened interaction with convalescent antibodies, suggesting the antigenic epitope is localized to the C-terminus. Overall, the different interactions of N proteoforms highlight potential avenues for therapeutic intervention and identify a stable and immunogenic proteoform as a possible candidate for immune-directed therapies.