Effects of Epitranscriptomic RNA Modifications on the Catalytic Activity of SARS-CoV-2 Replication Complex



Like other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 causes different symptoms and different degrees of harmfulness to different individuals. Potential reasons include an individual’s viral dose exposure, the affinity of an individual’s ACE2 to the spike protein of the virus, and the ability of the individual’s induced immune system to neutralize the virus. Beyond these, an individual’s epitranscriptomic system could be among the causes as well. The viral RNA genome, once inside the host cell, can be subject to modifications by the host’s epitranscriptomic machinery. Because the machinery is different in different individuals, it is reasonable to believe that RNA modifications are different among different individuals, and can positively or negatively affect downstream events that involve the RNA such as replication of viral genome, generation of viral mRNAs, viral protein production, RNA recognition by host’s immune system, and packaging of RNA genome into new viral particles. In this context, we studied the effects of several RNA modifications including pseudouridine (Ψ), 5-methylcytosine (m5C), N6-methyladenosine (m6A), N1-methyladenosine (m1A) and N3-methylcytosine (m3C) on the catalytic activity of SARS-CoV-2 replication complex (SC2RC), which included RNA dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp). We found that Ψ, m5C, m6A and m3C had little effects on the activity, while m1A severely inhibited the enzyme. Both m1A and m3C disrupt canonical base pairing. It is interesting one of them inhibits the enzyme while the other does not. The fact that m1A inhibits SC2RC may imply that the modification can be difficult to identify using any method even though it may exist and play a critical role. Putting aside other mechanisms by which the modifications cause individualized symptoms, the results indicated that individuals with a higher chance of m1A modification may stop viral replication and have less severe symptoms. However, this contradicts the observations that individuals with clinical conditions such as cancer, obesity and diabetes, who have upregulated m1A modifications, are more vulnerable to COVID-19. This contradiction may be explained by the importance of the dynamic nature of epitranscriptomic modifications for viral survival.

Version notes

The gel images in Figure 3 of Version 1 are not clear. The images are improved in the new version.


Supplementary material

RNA modification and SARS-CoV-2 genome replication
Experimental details for the synthesis of Bz-m3C phosphoramidite, images of gel electrophoresis, MALDI MS of RNAs and RP HPLC of RNA containing m1A.