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The Coronavirus Spike Protein

Implications of the Spike protein on viral entry to cell and thus infection
The spike protein is a defining characteristic of coronaviruses. Coronaviruses were named after “corona” the Latin word for crown, due to the spikes on the virus surface. The spike protein binds to cell surface proteins allowing the virus to gain entry. Spike proteins are found all over the virus surface.

In Figure 1 you can see a graphical representation of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. There are antibodies bound to the spike in this representation. The image represents the amino acids that form spike and antibody proteins, shown in magenta and yellow, respectively.. The image was adapted from the Protein Data Bank’s molecule of the month series. Feel free to explore that page for additional information.

Spike Protein. A tridimensional structure of the Spike protein (in pink) is on the surface of the viral membrane (orange). On top of the Spike there are 3-D structures of antibodies (yellow)

Figure 1 – Tridimensional structure of the Spike protein binding to antibodies. Modified from RCSB PDB 101

In this section, we are going to invite you to use your own investigative skills to learn about the role of the spike protein in infection and disease severity.

There are numerous articles, journal papers and summaries of this topic online and we’d encourage you to use databases and search strategies appropriate to your country, setting, profession and daily work. We have included a few links below to help you get started.

Comment below on the function of the spike protein and how it interacts with human cells. Which proteins on human cells does the spike interact with? Why do you think there are so many spikes on the viral surface?

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The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic

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