Comparative Perturbation-Based Modeling of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Binding with Host Receptor and Neutralizing Antibodies: Structurally Adaptable Allosteric Communication Hotspots Define Spike Sites Targeted by Global Circulating Mutations

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In this study, we used an integrative computational approach to examine molecular mechanisms and determine functional signatures underlying the role of functional residues in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that are targeted by novel mutational variants and antibody-escaping mutations. Atomistic simulations and functional dynamics analysis are combined with alanine scanning and mutational sensitivity profiling of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein complexes with the ACE2 host receptor and the REGN-COV2 antibody cocktail(REG10987+REG10933). Using alanine scanning and mutational sensitivity analysis, we have shown that K417, E484, and N501 residues correspond to key interacting centers with a significant degree of structural and energetic plasticity that allow mutants in these positions to afford the improved binding affinity with ACE2. Through perturbation-based network modeling and community analysis of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein complexes with ACE2, we demonstrate that E406, N439, K417, and N501 residues serve as effector centers of allosteric interactions and anchor major intermolecular communities that mediate long-range communication in the complexes. The results provide support to a model according to which mutational variants and antibody-escaping mutations constrained by the requirements for host receptor binding and preservation of stability may preferentially select structurally plastic and energetically adaptable allosteric centers to differentially modulate collective motions and allosteric interactions in the complexes with the ACE2 enzyme and REGN-COV2 antibody combination. This study suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein may function as a versatile and functionally adaptable allosteric machine that exploits the plasticity of allosteric regulatory centers to fine-tune response to antibody binding without compromising the activity of the spike protein.


This article was originally published in Biochemistry, volume 60, issue 19, in 2021.

This scholarship is part of the Chapman University COVID-19 Archives.

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American Chemical Society