Preprint Article Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

Achilles' Heel of SARS-CoV-2: Transcription Regulatory Sequence and Leader Sequence in 5’ Untranslated Region have Unique Evolutionary Patterns and are Vital for Virus Replication in Infected Human Cells

Version 1 : Received: 23 September 2020 / Approved: 25 September 2020 / Online: 25 September 2020 (10:14:46 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Journal reference: Cells 2021
DOI: 10.3390/cells10020319


Background SARS-CoV-2 has generated a life-treating pandemic and is the main challenge of this century. Some untranslated regions (UTRs) in SARS-CoV-2 genome, specifically leader sequence and transcription regulatory sequence (TRS) in 5’UTR, can be considered as Achilles' heel of virus. Leader sequence are found at the 5' ends of all encoded transcripts that highlights its importance. TRS can explain the host range and pathogenicity of coronavirus. However, our knowledge on the evolution and the role of UTRs in SARS-CoV-2 pathogenicity is very limited. This study is a pioneering attempt to unravel the evolution of key regions in 5' UTR of SARS-CoV-2 and discover the inhibitory microRNAs against 5' UTR of virus. Methods Evolution of TRS and leader sequence was compared between human pathogenic (SARS-CoV-2, SARS, and MERS) and non-pathogenic (bovine) coronaviruses. Profiling of microRNAs that can inactive the key UTR regions of coronaviruses, UTR-inhibitory microRNAs, was carried out. Findings We found a distinguished pattern of evolution in leader sequence and TRS of SARS-CoV-2, compared to the other coronaviruses. Mining all available microRNA families against leader sequences of coronaviruses resulted in discovery of 39 microRNAs with an acceptable thermodynamic binding energy against SARS-COV-2, SARS, MERS, Bat Coronavirus, or Bovine Coronavirus. Multivariate analysis demonstrated a distinguished pattern of binding of leader sequence of SARS-CoV-2 against microRNAs, with a lower binding stability. hsa-MIR-5004-3p was the only human microRNA that can target leader sequence of SARS and SARS-CoV-2. However, its binding stability remarkably decreased in SARS-COV-2 (-19.4 kcal/mol), compared to SARS-COV-2 (-25.9 kcal/mol). We found an insertion-type mutation in leader sequence of SARS-COV-2 that results in lower binding stability and escaping of viral leader sequence from hsa-MIR-5004-3p. Altogether, we suggest lack of innate human inhibitory microRNAs to bind to leader sequence and TRS of SARS-CoV-2 contributes to its high replication in infected human cells. On the other hand, mining of two hundred million deposited human genomic variants led us to discovery of 49 missense and splice-disrupt mutations in genomic structure of hsa-MIR-5004-3p. These mutations can negatively affect hsa-MIR-5004-3p function in preventing SARS-CoV-2 replication. Interpretation This study unravels the evolution of key regions in 5’UTR of SARS-CoV-2. Inducing microRNAs to bind to the leader sequence and TRS regions by drugs or food supplements can reduce virus replication. Enhancing the microRNA defence machinery against TRS and leader of virus has a potential to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection at the first place. The mentioned strategy is rapidly achievable against COVID-19. Missense variation in genomic sequence of 5’UTR inhibitory microRNAs, such as hsa-MIR-5004-3p, can be considered as risk factor of COVID-19.


COVID-19; Genomes; microRNA; SARS-CoV-2; Variant discovery



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