In March 2003, a novel coronavirus was isolated from patients exhibiting atypical pneumonia, and was subsequently proven to be the causative agent of the disease now referred to as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). The complete genome of the SARS-CoV (SARS coronavirus) has since been sequenced. The SARS-CoV nucleocapsid (SARS-CoV N) protein shares little homology with other members of the coronavirus family. In the present paper, we show that SARS-CoV N is capable of inducing apoptosis of COS-1 monkey kidney cells in the absence of growth factors by down-regulating ERK (extracellular-signal-regulated kinase), up-regulating JNK (c-Jun N-terminal kinase) and p38 MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) pathways, and affecting their downstream effectors. SARS-CoV N expression also down-regulated phospho-Akt and Bcl-2 levels, and activated caspases 3 and 7. However, apoptosis was independent of the p53 and Fas signalling pathways. Furthermore, activation of the p38 MAPK pathway was found to induce actin reorganization in cells devoid of growth factors. At the cytoskeletal level, SARS-CoV N down-regulated FAK (focal adhesion kinase) activity and also down-regulated fibronectin expression. This is the first report showing the ability of the N protein of SARS-CoV to induce apoptosis and actin reorganization in mammalian cells under stressed conditions.
- Actin reorganization
- Cell signalling
- Growth factor
- Programmed cell death
- SARS coronavirus nucleocapsid