Binding Mechanism of Neutralizing Nanobodies Targeting SARS-CoV-2 Spike Glycoprotein

Golcuk M., Hacisuleyman A., Erman B., Yildiz A., Gür M.

JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL INFORMATION AND MODELING, vol.61, no.10, pp.5152-5160, 2021 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 61 Issue: 10
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Doi Number: 10.1021/acs.jcim.1c00695
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Applied Science & Technology Source, Compendex, Computer & Applied Sciences, EMBASE, MEDLINE
  • Page Numbers: pp.5152-5160
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) enters human cells upon binding of its spike (S) glycoproteins to ACE2 receptors. Several nanobodies neutralize SARS-CoV-2 infection by binding to the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the S protein, but how their binding antagonizes S-ACE2 interactions is not well understood. Here, we identified interactions between the RBD and nanobodies H11-H4, H11-D4, and Ty1 by performing all-atom molecular dynamics simulations. H11-H4 and H11-D4 can bind to RBD without overlapping with ACE2. H11-H4, and to a lesser extent H11-D4, binding dislocates ACE2 from its binding site due to electrostatic repulsion. In comparison, Ty1 overlaps with ACE2 on RBD and has a similar binding strength to ACE2. Mutations in the Alpha variant of SARS-CoV-2 had a minor effect in RBD binding strengths of ACE2 and nanobodies, but reduced the ability of H11-H4 and H11-D4 to dislocate ACE2 from RBD. In comparison, the Beta variant weakened the RBD binding strengths of H11-H4 and H11-D4, which were less effective to dislocate ACE2 binding. Unexpectedly, mutations in Beta strengthened Ty1 binding to RBD, suggesting that this nanobody may be more effective to neutralize the Beta variant of SARS-CoV-2.