Delta SARS-CoV-2 s2m Structure, Dynamics, and Entropy: Consequences of the G15U Mutation



Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Publication Title

ACS Physical Chemistry Au


COVID-19, molecular dynamics, multivariate analysis, structural bioinformatics, viral RNA


Bioinformatic analysis of the Delta SARS-CoV-2 genome reveals a single nucleotide mutation (G15U) in the stem-loop II motif (s2m) relative to ancestral SARS-CoV-2. Despite sequence similarity, unexpected differences between SARS-CoV-2 and Delta SARS-CoV-2 s2m homodimerization experiments require the discovery of unknown structural and thermodynamic changes necessary to rationalize the data. Using our reported SARS-CoV-2 s2m model, we induced the G15U substitution and performed 3.5 microseconds of unbiased molecular dynamics simulation at 283 and 310 K. The resultant Delta s2m adopted a secondary structure consistent with our reported NMR data, resulting in significant deviations in the tertiary structure and dynamics from our SARS-CoV-2 s2m model. First, we find differences in the overall three-dimensional structure, where the characteristic 90° L-shaped kink of the SARS-CoV-2 s2m did not form in the Delta s2m resulting in a “linear” hairpin with limited bending dynamics. Delta s2m helical parameters are calculated to align closely with A-form RNA, effectively eliminating a hinge point to form the L-shape kink by correcting an upper stem defect in SARS-CoV-2 induced by a noncanonical and dynamic G:A base pair. Ultimately, the shape difference rationalizes the migration differences in reported electrophoresis experiments. Second, increased fluctuation of the Delta s2m palindromic sequence, within the terminal loop, compared to SARS-CoV-2 s2m results in an estimated increase of entropy of 6.8 kcal/mol at 310 K relative to the SARS-CoV-2 s2m. The entropic difference offers a unique perspective on why the Delta s2m homodimerizes less spontaneously, forming fewer kissing dimers and extended duplexes compared to SARS-CoV-2. In this work, both the L-shape reduction and palindromic entropic penalty provides an explanation of our reported in vitro electrophoresis homodimerization results. Ultimately, the structural, dynamical, and entropic differences between the SARS-CoV-2 s2m and Delta s2m serve to establish a foundation for future studies of the s2m function in the viral lifecycle.

Open Access