GENERATION OF SARS-COV-2 S1 SPIKE GLYCOPROTEIN PUTATIVE ANTIGENIC EPITOPES IN VITRO BY INTRACELLULAR AMINOPEPTIDASES
Presentation of antigenic peptides by MHCI is central to cellular immune responses against viral pathogens. While adaptive immune responses versus SARS-CoV-2 can be of critical importance to both recovery and vaccine efficacy, how protein antigens from this pathogen are processed to generate antigenic peptides is largely unknown. Here, we analyzed the proteolytic processing of overlapping precursor peptides spanning the entire sequence of the S1 spike glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2, by three key enzymes that generate antigenic peptides, aminopeptidases ERAP1, ERAP2 and IRAP. All enzymes generated shorter peptides with sequences suitable for binding onto HLA alleles, but with distinct specificity fingerprints. ERAP1 was the most efficient in generating peptides 8-11 residues long, the optimal length for HLA binding, while IRAP was the least efficient. The combination of ERAP1 with ERAP2 greatly limited the variability of peptide sequences produced. Less than 7% of computationally predicted epitopes were found to be produced experimentally, suggesting that aminopeptidase processing may constitute a significant filter to epitope presentation. These experimentally generated putative epitopes could be prioritized for SARS-CoV-2 immunogenicity studies and vaccine design. We furthermore propose that this in vitro trimming approach could constitute a general filtering method to enhance the prediction robustness for viral antigenic epitopes (J Proteome Res).
Endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase 1 (ERAP1) trims antigenic peptide precursors to generate mature antigenic peptides for presentation by major histocompatibility complex class I (MHCI) molecules and regulates adaptive immune responses. ERAP1 has been proposed to trim peptide precursors both in solution and in pre-formed MHCI-peptide complexes, but which mode is more relevant to its biological function remains controversial. Here, we compared ERAP1-mediated trimming of antigenic peptide precursors in solution or when bound to three MHCI alleles, HLA-B*58, HLA-B*08 and HLA-A*02. For all MHCI-peptide combinations, peptide binding onto MHCI protected against ERAP1-mediated trimming. In only a single MHCI-peptide combination, trimming of an HLA-B*08-bound 12mer progressed at a considerable rate, albeit still slower than in solution. Results from thermodynamic, kinetic and computational analyses suggested that this 12mer is highly labile and that apparent on-MHC trimming rates are always slower than that of MHCI-peptide dissociation. Both ERAP2 and leucine aminopeptidase, an enzyme unrelated to antigen processing, could trim this labile peptide from pre-formed MHCI complexes as efficiently as ERAP1. A pseudopeptide analogue with high affinity for both HLA-B*08 and the ERAP1 active site could not promote the formation of a ternary ERAP1-MHCI-peptide complex. Similarly, no interactions between ERAP1 and purified peptide loading complex (PLC) were detected in the absence or presence of a pseudopeptide trap. We conclude that MHCI binding protects peptides from ERAP1 degradation and that trimming in solution, along with the dynamic nature of peptide binding to MHCI, are sufficient to explain ERAP1 processing of antigenic peptide precursors. (JBC 2020)