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Structure of the S protein

With a size of 180–200 kDa, the S protein consists of an extracellular N-terminus, a transmembrane (TM) domain anchored in the viral membrane, and a short intracellular C-terminal segment [11]. S normally exists in a metastable, prefusion conformation; once the virus interacts with the host cell, extensive structural rearrangement of the S protein occurs, allowing the virus to fuse with the host cell membrane. The spikes are coated with polysaccharide molecules to camouflage them, evading surveillance of the host immune system during entry [12].

The total length of SARS-CoV-2 S is 1273 aa and consists of a signal peptide (amino acids 1–13) located at the N-terminus, the S1 subunit (14–685 residues), and the S2 subunit (686–1273 residues); the last two regions are responsible for receptor binding and membrane fusion, respectively. In the S1 subunit, there is an N-terminal domain (14–305 residues) and a receptor-binding domain (RBD, 319–541 residues); the fusion peptide (FP) (788–806 residues), heptapeptide repeat sequence 1 (HR1) (912–984 residues), HR2 (1163–1213 residues), TM domain (1213–1237 residues), and cytoplasm domain (1237–1273 residues) comprise the S2 subunit (Fig. 2a) [13]. S protein trimers visually form a characteristic bulbous, crown-like halo surrounding the viral particle (Fig. 1a). Based on the structure of coronavirus S protein monomers, the S1 and S2 subunits form the bulbous head and stalk region [14]. The structure of the SARS-CoV-2 trimeric S protein has been determined by cryo-electron microscopy at the atomic level, revealing different conformations of the S RBD domain in opened and closed states and its corresponding functions (Fig. 2b, c) [1516].