A structural protein of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), nucleocapsid (N) protein is phosphorylated by glycogen synthase kinase (GSK)-3 on the serine/arginine (SR) rich motif located in disordered regions. Although phosphorylation by GSK-3β constitutes a critical event for viral replication, the molecular mechanism underlying N phosphorylation is not well understood. In this study, we found the putative alpha-helix L/FxxxL/AxxRL motif known as the GSK-3 interacting domain (GID), found in many endogenous GSK-3β binding proteins, such as Axins, FRATs, WWOX, and GSKIP. Indeed, N interacts with GSK-3β similarly to Axin, and Leu to Glu substitution of the GID abolished the interaction, with loss of N phosphorylation. The N phosphorylation is also required for its structural loading in a virus-like particle (VLP). Compared to other coronaviruses, N of Sarbecovirus lineage including bat RaTG13 harbors a CDK1-primed phosphorylation site and Gly-rich linker for enhanced phosphorylation by GSK-3β. Furthermore, we found that the S202R mutant found in Delta and R203K/G204R mutant found in the Omicron variant allow increased abundance and hyper-phosphorylation of N. Our observations suggest that GID and mutations for increased phosphorylation in N may have contributed to the evolution of variants.
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© The Korean Society for Molecular and Cellular Biology.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Cell Biology