The Envelope (E) protein of SARS-CoV-2 is the most enigmatic protein among the four structural ones. Most of its current knowledge is based on the direct comparison to the SARS E protein, initially mistakenly undervalued and subsequently proved to be a key factor in the ER-Golgi localization and in tight junction disruption. We compared the genomic sequences of E protein of SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV and the closely related genomes of bats and pangolins obtained from the GISAID and GenBank databases. When compared to the known SARS E protein, we observed a significant difference in amino acid sequence in the C-terminal end of SARS-CoV-2 E protein. Subsequently, in silico modelling analyses of E proteins conformation and docking provide evidences of a strengthened binding of SARS-CoV-2 E protein with the tight junction-associated PALS1 protein. Based on our computational evidences and on data related to SARS-CoV, we believe that SARS-CoV-2 E protein interferes more stably with PALS1 leading to an enhanced epithelial barrier disruption, amplifying the inflammatory processes, and promoting tissue remodelling. These findings raise a warning on the underestimated role of the E protein in the pathogenic mechanism and open the route to detailed experimental investigations.
- Envelope protein
- Tight junctions