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Antigenic characterization of severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus nucleocapsid protein expressed in insect cells: The effect of phosphorylation on immunoreactivity and specificity

Virus Research
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.virusres.2007.03.019
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
  • Coronavirus
  • Nucleocapsid Protein
  • Phosphorylation
  • Antigenicity
  • Biology
  • Medicine


Abstract The nucleocapsid (N) protein of severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is involved in the pathological reaction to SARS and is a key antigen for the development of a sensitive diagnostic assay. However, the antigenic properties of this N protein are largely unknown. To facilitate the studies on the function and antigenicity of the SARS-CoV N protein, 6× histidine-tagged recombinant SARS-CoV N (rSARS-N) with a molecular mass of 46 and 48 kDa was successfully produced using the recombinant baculovirus system in insect cells. The rSARS-N expressed in insect cells (BrSARS-N) showed remarkably higher specificity and immunoreactivity than rSARS-N expressed in E. coli (ErSARS-N). Most of all, BrSARS-N proteins were expressed as a highly phosphorylated form with a molecular mass of 48 kDa, but ErSARS-N was a nonphosphorylated protein. In further analysis to determine the correlation between the phosphorylation and the antigenicity of SARS-N protein, dephosphorylated SARS-N protein treated with protein phosphatase 1 (PP1) remarkably enhanced the cross-reactivity against SARS negative serum and considerably reduced immunoreactivity with SARS-N mAb. These results suggest that the phosphorylation plays an important role in the immunoreactivity and specificity of SARS-N protein. Therefore, the BrSARS-N protein may be useful for the development of highly sensitive and specific assays to determine SARS infection and for further research of SARS-N pathology.

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