The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) membrane protein is an abundant virion protein, and its interaction
with the nucleocapsid protein is crucial for viral assembly and morphogenesis. Although the interacting region in the
nucleocapsid protein was mapped to residues 168C208, the interacting region in the membrane protein and the interaction nature are
still unclear. In this work, by using yeast two-hybrid and surface plasmon resonance techniques, the residues 197C221 of the membrane
protein and the residues 351C422 of the nucleocapsid protein were determined to be involved in their interaction. Sequence
analysis revealed that these two fragments are highly charged at neutral pH, suggesting that their interaction may be of ionic nature.
Kinetic assays indicated that the endodomain (aa102C221) of the membrane protein interacts with the nucleocapsid protein with
high affinity (KD = 0.550.04M), however, this interaction could be weakened greatly by acidification, higher salt concentration
(400mM NaCl) and divalent cation (50mM Ca2+), which suggests that electrostatic attraction might play an important role in this
interaction. In addition, it is noted that two highly conserved amino acids (L218 and L219) in the membrane protein are not involved
in this interaction. Here, we show that electrostatic interactions between the carboxyl termini of SARS-CoV membrane protein
and nucleocapsid protein largely mediate the interaction of these two proteins. These results might facilitate therapeutic strategies
aiming at the disruption of the association between SARS-CoV membrane and nucleocapsid proteins.