J Am Chem Soc 144 (20) 8945-8950 [2022-05-25; online 2022-05-17]
SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with a surprising number of morbidities. Uncanny similarities with amyloid-disease associated blood coagulation and fibrinolytic disturbances together with neurologic and cardiac problems led us to investigate the amyloidogenicity of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (S-protein). Amyloid fibril assays of peptide library mixtures and theoretical predictions identified seven amyloidogenic sequences within the S-protein. All seven peptides in isolation formed aggregates during incubation at 37 °C. Three 20-amino acid long synthetic spike peptides (sequence 192-211, 601-620, 1166-1185) fulfilled three amyloid fibril criteria: nucleation dependent polymerization kinetics by ThT, Congo red positivity, and ultrastructural fibrillar morphology. Full-length folded S-protein did not form amyloid fibrils, but amyloid-like fibrils with evident branching were formed during 24 h of S-protein coincubation with the protease neutrophil elastase (NE) in vitro. NE efficiently cleaved S-protein, rendering exposure of amyloidogenic segments and accumulation of the amyloidogenic peptide 194-203, part of the most amyloidogenic synthetic spike peptide. NE is overexpressed at inflamed sites of viral infection. Our data propose a molecular mechanism for potential amyloidogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 S-protein in humans facilitated by endoproteolysis. The prospective of S-protein amyloidogenesis in COVID-19 disease associated pathogenesis can be important in understanding the disease and long COVID-19.