Evidence that TMPRSS2 activates the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus spike protein for membrane fusion and reduces viral control by the humoral immune response

Journal of Virology
Ilona GlowackaStefan Pöhlmann


The spike (S) protein of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) can be proteolytically activated by cathepsins B and L upon viral uptake into target cell endosomes. In contrast, it is largely unknown whether host cell proteases located in the secretory pathway of infected cells and/or on the surface of target cells can cleave SARS S. We along with others could previously show that the type II transmembrane protease TMPRSS2 activates the influenza virus hemagglutinin and the human metapneumovirus F protein by cleavage. Here, we assessed whether SARS S is proteolytically processed by TMPRSS2. Western blot analysis revealed that SARS S was cleaved into several fragments upon coexpression of TMPRSS2 (cis-cleavage) and upon contact between SARS S-expressing cells and TMPRSS2-positive cells (trans-cleavage). cis-cleavage resulted in release of SARS S fragments into the cellular supernatant and in inhibition of antibody-mediated neutralization, most likely because SARS S fragments function as antibody decoys. trans-cleavage activated SARS S on effector cells for fusion with target cells and allowed efficient SARS S-driven viral entry into targets treated with a lysosomotropic agent or a cathepsin inhibitor. Final...Continue Reading


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