Research ResourceBiochemistry

Short linear motif candidates in the cell entry system used by SARS-CoV-2 and their potential therapeutic implications

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Science Signaling  12 Jan 2021:
Vol. 14, Issue 665, eabd0334
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.abd0334

SARS-CoV-2: From entry to autophagy?

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, enters cells through endocytosis upon binding to the cell surface receptor ACE2 and potentially others, including integrins. Using bioinformatics, Mészáros et al. predicted the presence of short amino acid sequences, called short linear motifs (SLiMs), in the cytoplasmic tails of ACE2 and various integrins that may engage the endocytic and autophagic machinery. Using affinity binding assays, Kliche et al. not only confirmed that many of these predicted SLiMs interacted with target peptides in various components of the endocytosis and autophagy machinery but also found that these interactions were regulated by the phosphorylation of SLiM-adjacent amino acids. Together, these findings have identified a potential link between autophagy and integrin signaling and could lead to new ways to prevent viral infection.


The first reported receptor for SARS-CoV-2 on host cells was the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). However, the viral spike protein also has an RGD motif, suggesting that cell surface integrins may be co-receptors. We examined the sequences of ACE2 and integrins with the Eukaryotic Linear Motif (ELM) resource and identified candidate short linear motifs (SLiMs) in their short, unstructured, cytosolic tails with potential roles in endocytosis, membrane dynamics, autophagy, cytoskeleton, and cell signaling. These SLiM candidates are highly conserved in vertebrates and may interact with the μ2 subunit of the endocytosis-associated AP2 adaptor complex, as well as with various protein domains (namely, I-BAR, LC3, PDZ, PTB, and SH2) found in human signaling and regulatory proteins. Several motifs overlap in the tail sequences, suggesting that they may act as molecular switches, such as in response to tyrosine phosphorylation status. Candidate LC3-interacting region (LIR) motifs are present in the tails of integrin β3 and ACE2, suggesting that these proteins could directly recruit autophagy components. Our findings identify several molecular links and testable hypotheses that could uncover mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 attachment, entry, and replication against which it may be possible to develop host-directed therapies that dampen viral infection and disease progression. Several of these SLiMs have now been validated to mediate the predicted peptide interactions.

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