Bioinformatics Insights on Viral Gene Expression Transactivation: From HIV-1 to SARS-CoV-2


Viruses continue to provide vital insights into the field of control of gene expression. Viral transactivators, in concert with other viral and cellular proteins, regulate expression of self, other viruses, and host genes with profound effects on infected cells, underlying inflammation, control of immune responses, and pathogenesis. The multifunctional Tat proteins of lentiviruses (HIV-1, HIV-2, and SIV) transactivate gene expression by recruiting host proteins and binding to trans-acting responsive regions (TARs) in viral and host RNAs. SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid participates in early viral transcription, recruits similar cellular proteins, and shares intracellular, surface, and extracellular distribution with Tat. SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid interacting with the Replication-Transcription complex might, therefore, transactivate viral and cellular RNAs in transcription and reactivation of self and other viruses, acute and chronic pathogenesis, immune evasion, and viral evolution, constituting a potential pan-coronaviral therapeutic target. Here, we show by using primary and secondary structural comparisons that the leaders of SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses contain TAR-like sequences in stem-loops 2 and 3, the coronaviral nucleocapsid C-terminal domains (N-CTDs) harbor a region of similarity to TAR-binding regions of lentiviral Tat proteins, and the coronaviral nonstructural protein 12 has a cysteine-rich metal binding, dimerization domain similar to that in lentiviral Tat proteins.


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