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The mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein recognition by the human 14-3-3 proteins

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JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
DateAccepted/In press - 29 Jan 2021
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 5 Feb 2021
Early online date5/02/21
Original languageEnglish


The coronavirus nucleocapsid protein (N) controls viral genome packaging and contains numerous phosphorylation sites located within unstructured regions. Binding of phosphorylated SARS-CoV N to the host 14-3-3 protein in the cytoplasm was reported to regulate nucleocytoplasmic N shuttling. All seven isoforms of the human 14-3-3 are abundantly present in tissues vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2, where N can constitute up to ∼1% of expressed proteins during infection. Although the association between 14-3-3 and SARS-CoV-2 N proteins can represent one of the key host-pathogen interactions, its molecular mechanism and the specific critical phosphosites are unknown. Here, we show that phosphorylated SARS-CoV-2 N protein (pN) dimers, reconstituted via bacterial co-expression with protein kinase A, directly associate, in a phosphorylation-dependent manner, with the dimeric 14-3-3 protein, but not with its monomeric mutant. We demonstrate that pN is recognized by all seven human 14-3-3 isoforms with various efficiencies and deduce the apparent KD to selected isoforms, showing that these are in a low micromolar range. Serial truncations pinpointed a critical phosphorylation site to Ser197, which is conserved among related zoonotic coronaviruses and located within the functionally important, SR-rich region of N. The relatively tight 14-3-3/pN association could regulate nucleocytoplasmic shuttling and other functions of N via occlusion of the SR-rich region, and could also hijack cellular pathways by 14-3-3 sequestration. As such, the assembly may represent a valuable target for therapeutic intervention.

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© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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