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The SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is the etiological agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The SARS-CoV spike (S) glycoprotein mediates membrane fusion events during virus entry and virus-induced cell-to-cell fusion. To delineate functional domains of the SARS-CoV S glycoprotein, single point mutations, cluster-to-lysine and cluster-to-alanine mutations, as well as carboxyl-terminal truncations were investigated in transient expression experiments. Mutagenesis of either the coiled-coil domain of the S glycoprotein amino terminal heptad repeat, the predicted fusion peptide, or an adjacent but distinct region, severely compromised S-mediated cell-to-cell fusion, while intracellular transport and cell-surface expression were not adversely affected. Surprisingly, a carboxyl-terminal truncation of 17 amino acids substantially increased S glycoprotein-mediated cell-to-cell fusion suggesting that the terminal 17 amino acids regulated the S fusogenic properties. In contrast, truncation of 26 or 39 amino acids eliminating either one or both of the two endodomain cysteine-rich motifs, respectively, inhibited cell fusion in comparison to the wild-type S. The 17 and 26 amino-acid deletions did not adversely affect S cell-surface expression, while the 39 amino-acid truncation inhibited S cell-surface expression suggesting that the membrane proximal cysteine-rich motif plays an essential role in S cell-surface expression. Mutagenesis of the acidic amino-acid cluster in the carboxyl terminus of the S glycoprotein as well as modification of a predicted phosphorylation site within the acidic cluster revealed that this amino-acid motif may play a functional role in the retention of S at cell surfaces. This genetic analysis reveals that the SARS-CoV S glycoprotein contains extracellular domains that regulate cell fusion as well as distinct endodomains that function in intracellular transport, cell-surface expression, and cell fusion. © 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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