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Microbiol Immunol. 2005;49(10):899-908.

In silico analysis of ORF1ab in coronavirus HKU1 genome reveals a unique putative cleavage site of coronavirus HKU1 3C-like protease.

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Department of Microbiology, The University of Hong Kong, University Pathology Building, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong.


Recently we have described the discovery and complete genome sequence of a novel coronavirus associated with pneumonia, coronavirus HKU1 (CoV-HKU1). In this study, a detailed in silico analysis of the ORF1ab, encoding the 7,182-amino acid replicase polyprotein in the CoV-HKU1 genome showed that the replicase polyprotein of CoV-HKU1 is cleaved by its papain-like proteases and 3C-like protease (3CL(pro)) into 16 polypeptides homologous to the corresponding polypeptides in other coronaviruses. Surprisingly, analysis of the putative cleavage sites of the 3CL(pro) revealed a unique putative cleavage site. In all known coronaviruses, the P1 positions at the cleavage sites of the 3CL(pro) are occupied by glutamine. This is also observed in CoV-HKU1, except for one site at the junction between nsp10 (helicase) and nsp11 (member of exonuclease family), where the P1 position is occupied by histidine. This amino acid substitution is due to a single nucleotide mutation in the CoV-HKU1 genome, CAG/A to CAT. This probably represents a novel cleavage site because the same mutation was consistently observed in CoV-HKU1 sequences from multiple specimens of different patients; the P2 and P1'-P12' positions of this cleavage site are consistent between CoV-HKU1 and other coronaviruses; and as the helicase is one of the most conserved proteins in coronaviruses, cleavage between nsp10 and nsp11 should be an essential step for the generation of the mature functional helicase. Experiments, including purification and C-terminal amino acid sequencing of the CoV-HKU1 helicase and trans-cleavage assays of the CoV-HKU1 3CL(pro) will confirm the presence of this novel cleavage site.

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