Background: Coronaviruses (CoVs) infect a wide range of animals and birds. Their tropism is primarily determined by the ability of the spike protein to bind to a host cell surface receptor. The ongoing outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 inculcates the need for the development of effective intervention strategies.
Objectives: In this study, we aim to produce pseudotyped coronaviruses of SARS-CoV-1, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 and show its applications, including virus entry, neutralization, and screening of entry inhibitors from natural products.
Methods: Here, we generated VSV-based pseudotyped coronaviruses (CoV-PVs) for SARS-CoV-1, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2. Recombinant spike proteins of SARS-CoV-1, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 were transiently expressed in HEK293T cells followed by infection with recombinant VSV. High titer pseudoviruses were harvested and subjected to distinct validation assays, which confirms the proper spike pseudotyping. Further, specific receptor-mediated entry was confirmed by antibody neutralization and soluble form of receptor inhibition assay on Vero E6 cells. Next, these CoV-PVs were used for screening of antiviral activity of natural products such as green tea and Spirulina extract.
Results: Medicinal plants and natural compounds have been traditionally used as antiviral agents. In the first series of experiments, we demonstrated that pseudotyped viruses specifically bind to their receptors for cellular entry. SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV anti-sera neutralize SARS-CoV-1-PV and SARS-CoV-2-PV, and MERS-CoV-PV, respectively. Incubation of soluble ACE2 with CoV-PVs inhibited entry of SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 PVs but not MERS-CoV-PV. Also, transient expression of ACE2 and DPP4 in non-permissive BHK21 cells enabled infection by SARS-CoV-1-PV, SARS-CoV-2-PV, and MERS-CoV-PV, respectively. Next, we showed the antiviral properties of known entry inhibitors of enveloped viruses, Spirulina, and green tea extracts against CoV-PVs. SARS-CoV-1-PV, MERS-CoV-PV, and SARS-CoV-2-PV entry was blocked with higher efficiency when preincubated with either green tea or Spirulina extracts. Green tea provided a better inhibitory effect by binding to the S1 domain of the spike and blocking the spike interaction with its receptor.
Conclusion: In summary, we demonstrated that pseudotyped viruses are an ideal tool for studying viral entry, quantification of neutralizing antibodies, and screening of entry inhibitors in a BSL-2 facility. Moreover, green tea might be a promising natural remedy against emerging coronaviruses.