Elena Poggio, Francesca Vallese, Andreas J. W. Hartel, Travis J. Morgenstern, Scott A. Kanner, Oliver Rauh, Flavia Giamogante, Lucia Barazzuol, Kenneth L. Shepard, Henry M. Colecraft, Oliver Biggs Clarke, Marisa Brini and Tito Calì Perturbation of the host cell Ca2+ homeostasis and ER- mitochondria contact sites by the SARS-CoV-2 structural proteins E and M. Cell Death and Disease, April 29, 2023.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a contagious respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The clinical phenotypes are variable, ranging from spontaneous recovery to serious illness and death. On March 2020, a global COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). As of February 2023, almost 670 million cases and 6,8 million deaths have been confirmed worldwide. Coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, contain a single-stranded RNA genome enclosed in a viral capsid consisting of four structural proteins: the nucleocapsid (N) protein, in the ribonucleoprotein core, the spike (S) protein, the envelope (E) protein, and the membrane (M) protein, embedded in the surface envelope. In particular, the E protein is a poorly characterized viroporin with high identity amongst all the β-coronaviruses (SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, HCoV-OC43) and a low mutation rate. Here, we focused our attention on the study of SARS-CoV-2 E and M proteins, and we found a general perturbation of the host cell calcium (Ca2+) homeostasis and a selective rearrangement of the interorganelle contact sites. In vitro and in vivo biochemical analyses revealed that the binding of specific nanobodies to soluble regions of SARS-CoV-2 E protein reversed the observed phenotypes, suggesting that the E protein might be an important therapeutic candidate not only for vaccine development, but also for the clinical management of COVID designing drug regimens that, so far, are very limited.