Virologica Sinica

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 288–299

Structural and mutational analysis of the interaction between the Middle-East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) papain-like protease and human ubiquitin

Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12250-016-3742-4

Cite this article as:
Lei, J. & Hilgenfeld, R. Virol. Sin. (2016) 31: 288. doi:10.1007/s12250-016-3742-4


The papain-like protease (PLpro) of Middle-East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has proteolytic, deubiquitinating, and deISGylating activities. The latter two are involved in the suppression of the antiviral innate immune response of the host cell. To contribute to an understanding of this process, we present here the X-ray crystal structure of a complex between MERS-CoV PLpro and human ubiquitin (Ub) that is devoid of any covalent linkage between the two proteins. Five regions of the PLpro bind to two areas of the Ub. The C-terminal five residues of Ub, RLRGG, are similar to the P5–P1 residues of the polyprotein substrates of the PLpro and are responsible for the major part of the interaction between the two macromolecules. Through sitedirected mutagenesis, we demonstrate that conserved Asp165 and non-conserved Asp164 are important for the catalytic activities of MERS-CoV PLpro. The enzyme appears not to be optimized for catalytic efficiency; thus, replacement of Phe269 by Tyr leads to increased peptidolytic and deubiquitinating activities. Ubiquitin binding by MERS-CoV PLpro involves remarkable differences compared to the corresponding complex with SARS-CoV PLpro. The structure and the mutational study help understand common and unique features of the deubiquitinating activity of MERS-CoV PLpro.


coronavirus Middle-East respiratory syndrome (MERS) papain-like protease ubiquitin deubiquitinase 

Supplementary material

12250_2016_3742_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (193 kb)
Supplementary material, approximately 194 KB.

Copyright information

© Wuhan Institute of Virology, CAS and Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Biochemistry, Center for Structural and Cell Biology in MedicineUniversity of LübeckLübeckGermany
  2. 2.German Center for Infection Research (DZIF)University of LübeckLübeckGermany

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