Coronaviruses—the Common Cold, SARS, MERS—Spike Protein

Coronaviruses (CoVs) are a common cause of infection in many animal species. In humans, CoVs are most often associated with the common cold, but can cause more serious conditions such as SARS and MERS. These enveloped viruses access their host cells by binding to receptors on the plasma membrane and then undergo fusion with the host membrane. Both binding and fusion are mediated by a specific viral spike protein.

Gary Whittaker, Microbiology and Immunology, and Susan Daniel, Chemical Engineering, are taking an integrated biophysical, biochemical, and in vivo approach to study the unique cleavage-activated regulation of coronavirus fusion spike protein.

The researchers use an innovative single particle tracking technique to assess fusion function. The research monitors structural changes of the fusion peptide and host membrane using a suite of spectroscopic methods. These data—combined with in vivo infectivity experiments—will reveal how structure, function, and ultimately pathogenesis is critical to understanding coronavirus emergence in the human population. The studies will allow the researchers to determine common principles that can be applied to all CoVs.

Moving the field forward with these innovative studies will provide critical knowledge about CoV entry and tropism. This knowledge is crucial to safeguarding human health from an emerging pathogen likely to cause severe outbreaks for which few or no medical countermeasures exist.

NIH Award Number: 1R01AI135270-01A1

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$2 Million spanning 4 years