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J Virol. 2004 Nov;78(22):12557-65.

Generation of synthetic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus pseudoparticles: implications for assembly and vaccine production.

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  • 1Vaccine Research Center, Natiuonal Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bldg. 40, Room 4502, MSC 3005, 40 Convent Drive, Bethesda, MD 20982-3005, USA.


The recently emerged severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) contains four structural genes, two replicase-transcriptase open reading frames, and more than five potential genes of unknown function. Despite this relative simplicity, the molecular regulation of SARS-CoV replication and assembly is not understood. Here, we report that two viral genes, encoding the SARS-CoV membrane (M) and nucleocapsid (N) proteins, are necessary and sufficient for formation of virus-like particles. Expression vectors encoding these two proteins were synthesized by using preferred human codons. When M and N expression plasmids were cotransfected into human 293 renal epithelial cells, pseudoparticles formed readily. The addition of a third gene, encoding the spike (S) glycoprotein, facilitated budding of particles that contained a corona-like halo resembling SARS-CoV when examined by transmission electron microscopy, with a buoyant density characteristic of coronaviruses. Specific biochemical interactions of these proteins were also shown in vitro. The S, M, and N proteins of the SARS-CoV are, therefore, necessary and sufficient for pseudovirus assembly. These findings advance the understanding of the morphogenesis of SARS-CoV and enable the generation of safe, conformational mimetics of the SARS virus that may facilitate the development of vaccines and antiviral drugs.

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