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Exploring dynamics and network analysis of spike glycoprotein of SARS-COV-2

  • Ghorbani, Mahdi1, 2
  • Brooks, Bernard R.2
  • Klauda, Jeffery B.1, 3
  • 1 Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
  • 2 Laboratory of Computational Biology, National, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20824, USA
  • 3 Biophysics Graduate Program, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA
Published Article
Biophysical Journal
Publication Date
Mar 09, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2021.02.047
PMCID: PMC7939993
PubMed Central


The ongoing pandemic caused by coronavirus SARS-COV-2 continues to rage with devastating consequences on human health and global economy. The spike glycoprotein on the surface of coronavirus mediates its entry into host cells and is the target of all current antibody design efforts to neutralize the virus. The glycan shield of the spike helps the virus to evade the human immune response by providing a thick sugar-coated barrier against any antibody. To study the dynamic motion of glycans in the spike protein, we performed microsecond-long MD simulation in two different states that correspond to the receptor binding domain in open or closed conformations. Analysis of this microsecond-long simulation revealed a scissoring motion on the N-terminal domain of neighboring monomers in the spike trimer. Role of multiple glycans in shielding of spike protein in different regions were uncovered by a network analysis, where the high betweenness centrality of glycans at the apex revealed their importance and function in the glycan shield. Microdomains of glycans were identified featuring a high degree of intra-communication in these microdomains. An antibody overlap analysis revealed the glycan microdomains as well as individual glycans that inhibit access to the antibody epitopes on the spike protein. Overall, the results of this study provide detailed understanding of the spike glycan shield, which may be utilized for therapeutic efforts against this crisis.

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