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J Biol Chem. 2003 Oct 10;278(41):39578-82. Epub 2003 Aug 13.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus NTPase/helicase belongs to a distinct class of 5' to 3' viral helicases.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China.


The putative NTPase/helicase protein from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is postulated to play a number of crucial roles in the viral life cycle, making it an attractive target for anti-SARS therapy. We have cloned, expressed, and purified this protein as an N-terminal hexahistidine fusion in Escherichia coli and have characterized its helicase and NTPase activities. The enzyme unwinds double-stranded DNA, dependent on the presence of a 5' single-stranded overhang, indicating a 5'o 3' polarity of activity, a distinct characteristic of coronaviridae helicases. We provide the first quantitative analysis of the polynucleic acid binding and NTPase activities of a Nidovirus helicase, using a high throughput phosphate release assay that will be readily adaptable to the future testing of helicase inhibitors. All eight common NTPs and dNTPs were hydrolyzed by the SARS helicase in a magnesium-dependent reaction, stimulated by the presence of either single-stranded DNA or RNA. The enzyme exhibited a preference for ATP, dATP, and dCTP over the other NTP/dNTP substrates. Homopolynucleotides significantly stimulated the ATPase activity (15-25-fold) with the notable exception of poly(G) and poly(dG), which were non-stimulatory. We found a large variation in the apparent strength of binding of different homopolynucleotides, with dT24 binding over 10 times more strongly than dA24 as observed by the apparent Km.

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