Structure, Function, and Evolution of Coronavirus Spike Proteins

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1838 Scopus citations


The coronavirus spike protein is a multifunctional molecular machine that mediates coronavirus entry into host cells. It first binds to a receptor on the host cell surface through its S1 subunit and then fuses viral and host membranes through its S2 subunit. Two domains in S1 from different coronaviruses recognize a variety of host receptors, leading to viral attachment. The spike protein exists in two structurally distinct conformations, prefusion and postfusion. The transition from prefusion to postfusion conformation of the spike protein must be triggered, leading to membrane fusion. This article reviews current knowledge about the structures and functions of coronavirus spike proteins, illustrating how the two S1 domains recognize different receptors and how the spike proteins are regulated to undergo conformational transitions. I further discuss the evolution of these two critical functions of coronavirus spike proteins, receptor recognition and membrane fusion, in the context of the corresponding functions from other viruses and host cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-261
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Virology
StatePublished - Sep 29 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2016 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


  • Coronavirus spike protein
  • Membrane fusion
  • Postfusion conformation
  • Prefusion conformation
  • Receptor binding
  • Virus evolution
  • Virus origin


Dive into the research topics of 'Structure, Function, and Evolution of Coronavirus Spike Proteins'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this