Simulations support the interaction of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and suggest subtype specificity.

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Ana Sofia F OliveiraAdrian J Mulholland


Changeux et al. recently suggested that the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein may interact with nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Such interactions may be involved in pathology and infectivity. Here, we use molecular simulations of validated atomically detailed structures of nAChRs, and of the S protein, to investigate this 'nicotinic hypothesis'. We examine the binding of the Y674-R685 loop of the S protein to three nAChRs, namely the human α4β2 and α7 subtypes and the muscle-like αβγδ receptor from Tetronarce californica. Our results indicate that Y674-R685 has affinity for nAChRs and the region responsible for binding contains the PRRA motif, a four-residue insertion not found in other SARS-like coronaviruses. In particular, R682 has a key role in the stabilisation of the complexes as it forms interactions with loops A, B and C in the receptor's binding pocket. The conformational behaviour of the bound Y674-R685 region is highly dependent on the receptor subtype, adopting extended conformations in the α4β2 and α7 complexes and more compact ones when bound to the muscle-like receptor. In the α4β2 and αβγδ complexes, the interaction of Y674-R685 with the receptors forces the loop C region to adopt an open conformation sim...Continue Reading


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