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YEAR : 2020

Leveraging coronavirus binding to gangliosides for innovative vaccine and therapeutic strategies against COVID-19

AUTHORS : Fantini J, Chahinian H, Yahi N.

JOURNAL : Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications
Covid-19 is an infectious respiratory disease due to a coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. A critical step of the infection cycle is the binding of the virus spike S protein to the cellular ACE-2 receptor. This interaction involves a receptor binding domain (RBD) located at the center of the S trimer, whereas the lateral N-terminal domain (NTD) displays a flat ganglioside binding site that enables the virus to bind to lipid rafts of the plasma membrane, where the ACE-2 receptor resides. S protein binding to lipid rafts can be blocked by hydroxychloroquine, which binds to gangliosides, and by azithromycin, which binds to the NTD. Based on these data, we identified the NTD of SARS-CoV-2 as a promising target for both therapeutic and vaccine strategies, a notion later supported by the discovery, in convalescent Covid-19 patients, of a neutralizing antibody (4A8) that selectively binds to the NTD. The 4A8 epitope overlaps the ganglioside binding domain, denying any access of the virus to lipid rafts when the antibody is bound to the S protein. Thus, our data explain why antibody binding to the tip of the NTD results in SARS-CoV-2 neutralization. The high level of conservation of the ganglioside binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 (100% identity in 584 of 600 isolates analyzed worldwide) offers unique opportunities for innovative vaccine/therapeutic strategies.