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A molecular pore spans the double membrane of the coronavirus replication organelle

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Science  11 Sep 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6509, pp. 1395-1398
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd3629

A gateway to the cytosol

Coronaviruses transform host cell membranes into peculiar double-membrane vesicles that have long been thought to accommodate viral genome replication. However, because these compartments appeared to be completely sealed, it has remained unknown how the newly made viral RNA could be exported to the cytosol for translation and packaging into new virions. Wolff et al. used cryo–electron microscopy to identify a molecular pore that spans the double membrane (see the Perspective by Unchwaniwala and Ahlquist). Six copies of a large coronavirus transmembrane protein formed the core of this structure, which may constitute a viral RNA export channel and provide a target for future antiviral interventions.

Science, this issue p. 1395; see also p. 1306

Abstract

Coronavirus genome replication is associated with virus-induced cytosolic double-membrane vesicles, which may provide a tailored microenvironment for viral RNA synthesis in the infected cell. However, it is unclear how newly synthesized genomes and messenger RNAs can travel from these sealed replication compartments to the cytosol to ensure their translation and the assembly of progeny virions. In this study, we used cellular cryo–electron microscopy to visualize a molecular pore complex that spans both membranes of the double-membrane vesicle and would allow export of RNA to the cytosol. A hexameric assembly of a large viral transmembrane protein was found to form the core of the crown-shaped complex. This coronavirus-specific structure likely plays a key role in coronavirus replication and thus constitutes a potential drug target.

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