When expressed in mammalian cells, the nucleocapsid (N) and membrane (M) proteins of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) are sufficient to form pseudoparticles. To identify region(s) of the N molecule required for pseudoparticle formation, we performed biochemical analysis of the interaction of N mutants and M in HEK293 cells. Using a peptide library derived from N, we found that amino acids 101-115 constituted a novel binding site for M. We examined the ability of N mutants to interact with M and form pseudoparticles, and our observations indicated that M bound to NΔ(101-115), N1-150, N151-300, and N301-422, but not to N1-150Δ(101-115). However, pseudoparticles were formed when NΔ(101-115) or N301-422, but not N1-150 or N151-300, were expressed with M in HEK293 cells. These results indicated that the minimum portion of N required for the interaction with M and pseudoparticle formation consists of amino acids 301-422.
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