The first step of SARS-CoV-2 infection is binding of the spike protein’s receptor binding domain to the host cell’s ACE2 receptor on the plasma membrane. Here, we have generated a versatile imaging probe using recombinant Spike receptor binding domain conjugated to fluorescent quantum dots (QDs). This probe is capable of engaging in energy transfer quenching with ACE2-conjugated gold nanoparticles to enable monitoring of the binding event in solution. Neutralizing antibodies and recombinant human ACE2 blocked quenching, demonstrating a specific binding interaction. In cells transfected with ACE2-GFP, we observed immediate binding of the probe on the cell surface followed by endocytosis. Neutralizing antibodies and ACE2-Fc fully prevented binding and endocytosis with low nanomolar potency. Importantly, we will be able to use this QD nanoparticle probe to identify and validate inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike and ACE2 receptor binding in human cells. This work enables facile, rapid, and high-throughput cell-based screening of inhibitors for coronavirus Spike-mediated cell recognition and entry.
KEYWORDS:quantum dot, SARS-CoV-2, spike, receptor binding domain, angiotensin converting enzyme 2, fluorescence, endocytosis