The endodomain of several coronavirus (CoV) spike (S) proteins contains palmitylated cysteine residues and enables co-localization and interaction with the CoV membrane (M) protein. Depalmitylation of mouse hepatitis virus S proteins abolished this interaction, resulting in the failure of S incorporation into virions. In contrast, an immunofluorescence assay (IFA) showed that depalmitylated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SCoV) S proteins still co-localized with the M protein in the budding site. Here, we determined the ability of depalmitylated SCoV S mutants to incorporate S into virus-like particles (VLPs). IFA confirmed that all SCoV S mutants co-localized with the M protein intracellularly. However, the mutants lacking two cysteine residues (C1234/1235) failed to incorporate S into VLPs. This indicated that these palmitylated cysteines are essential for S incorporation, but are not involved in S co-localization mediated by the M protein. Our findings suggest that M-S co-localization and S incorporation occur independently of one another in SCoV virion assembly.
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