The 2003 global outbreak of progressive respiratory failure was caused by a newly emerged virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). In contrast to many well-studied enveloped viruses that assemble and bud at the plasma membrane, coronaviruses assemble by budding into the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum-Golgi intermediate compartment and are released from the cell by exocytosis. For this to occur, the viral envelope proteins must be efficiently targeted to the Golgi region of the secretory pathway. Although the envelope protein (E) makes up only a small percentage of the viral envelope, it plays an important, as-yet-undefined role in virus production. To dissect the targeting of the SARS-CoV E protein to the Golgi region, we exogenously expressed the protein and various mutants from cDNA and determined their localization using immunofluorescence microscopy and biochemical assays. We show that the cytoplasmic tail of the SARS-CoV E protein is sufficient to redirect a plasma membrane protein to the Golgi region. Through site-directed mutagenesis, we demonstrate that a predicted beta-hairpin structural motif in the tail is sufficient for Golgi complex localization of a reporter protein. This motif is conserved in E proteins of beta and gamma coronaviruses (formerly referred to as group 2 and 3 coronaviruses), where it also functions as a Golgi complex-targeting signal. Dissecting the mechanism of targeting of the SARS-CoV E protein will lead to a better understanding of its role in the assembly and release of virions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science