The interferon-induced transmembrane (IFITM) proteins confer cells with resistance to diverse virus infections by altering membrane biomechanics and disfavoring virus-cell membrane fusion. Human IFITM3 strongly restricts SARS-CoV and MERS Spike-mediated infections in endosomes. However, work from our labs demonstrated that IFITM3 has opposing effects on SARS-CoV-2 (SCV2) infection: IFITM3 in endosomes restricts SCV2 infection, but IFITM3 at the cell surface enhances SCV2 infection. In the present study, we investigated the determinants governing the enhancement of SCV2 infection by human IFITM3. Using clinical isolates of SCV2 and pseudoviruses bearing SCV2 Spike, we found that the penultimate and ultimate amino acid residues of IFITM3, which are predicted to extend into the extracellular space, are essential for enhancement of SCV2 Spike-mediated infection. Deletion of these residues in human IFITM3 resulted in loss of SCV2 infection enhancement. On the other hand, we found that certain non-human IFITM3 proteins enhanced SCV2 infection to a greater extent than human IFITM3, and this mapped to sequence divergence in the penultimate and ultimate residues of the IFITM3 extracellular tail. Transferring the last two amino acids of macaque IFITM3 to human IFITM3 resulted in further enhancement of SCV2 infection. These results indicate that certain non-human primate IFITM3 proteins may be poised to act as potent enhancers of SCV2 infection in those species. Genomic analyses revealed that the IFITM3 extracellular tail is diversifying rapidly and recurrently in primates over evolutionary time, raising the possibility that variation at these sites is adaptive in nature and allows for escape from co-option by coronaviruses.

NIH Intramural Research Program NIAID Intramural Targeted Anti-COVID19 Program Award

This content is only available via PDF.