• Characterization of SARS-CoV-2 proteins reveals Orf6 pathogenicity, subcellular localization, host interactions and attenuation by Selinexor

      Lee, J.-G.; Huang, W.; Lee, H.; van de Leemput, J.; Kane, M.A.; Han, Z. (Springer Nature, 2021-03-25)
      Background: SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19 which has a widely diverse disease profile. The mechanisms underlying its pathogenicity remain unclear. We set out to identify the SARS-CoV-2 pathogenic proteins that through host interactions cause the cellular damages underlying COVID-19 symptomatology. Methods: We examined each of the individual SARS-CoV-2 proteins for their cytotoxicity in HEK 293 T cells and their subcellular localization in COS-7 cells. We also used Mass-Spec Affinity purification to identify the host proteins interacting with SARS-CoV-2 Orf6 protein and tested a drug that could inhibit a specific Orf6 and host protein interaction. Results: We found that Orf6, Nsp6 and Orf7a induced the highest toxicity when over-expressed in human 293 T cells. All three proteins showed membrane localization in COS-7 cells. We focused on Orf6, which was most cytotoxic and localized to the endoplasmic reticulum, autophagosome and lysosomal membranes. Proteomics revealed Orf6 interacts with nucleopore proteins (RAE1, XPO1, RANBP2 and nucleoporins). Treatment with Selinexor, an FDA-approved inhibitor for XPO1, attenuated Orf6-induced cellular toxicity in human 293 T cells. Conclusions: Our study revealed Orf6 as a highly pathogenic protein from the SARS-CoV-2 genome, identified its key host interacting proteins, and Selinexor as a drug candidate for directly targeting Orf6 host protein interaction that leads to cytotoxicity. Copyright 2021, The Author(s).
    • Functional analysis of SARS-CoV-2 proteins in Drosophila identifies Orf6-induced pathogenic effects with Selinexor as an effective treatment

      Zhu, J.-Y.; Lee, J.-G.; van de Leemput, J.; Kane, M.A.; Han, Z. (Springer Nature, 2021-03-25)
      Background: SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19 with a widely diverse disease profile that affects many different tissues. The mechanisms underlying its pathogenicity in host organisms remain unclear. Animal models for studying the pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 proteins are lacking. Methods: Using bioinformatic analysis, we found that 90% of the virus-host interactions involve human proteins conserved in Drosophila. Therefore, we generated a series of transgenic fly lines for individual SARS-CoV-2 genes, and used the Gal4-UAS system to express these viral genes in Drosophila to study their pathogenicity. Results: We found that the ubiquitous expression of Orf6, Nsp6 or Orf7a in Drosophila led to reduced viability and tissue defects, including reduced trachea branching as well as muscle deficits resulting in a "held-up" wing phenotype and poor climbing ability. Furthermore, muscles in these flies showed dramatically reduced mitochondria. Since Orf6 was found to interact with nucleopore proteins XPO1, we tested Selinexor, a drug that inhibits XPO1, and found that it could attenuate the Orf6-induced lethality and tissue-specific phenotypes observed in flies. Conclusions: Our study established Drosophila as a model for studying the function of SARS-CoV2 genes, identified Orf6 as a highly pathogenic protein in various tissues, and demonstrated the potential of Selinexor for inhibiting Orf6 toxicity using an in vivo animal model system. Copyright 2021, The Author(s).