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The ongoing global pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) resulted from the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 in December 2019. Currently, multiple efforts are being made to rapidly develop vaccines and treatments to fight COVID-19. Current vaccine candidates use inactivated SARS-CoV-2 viruses; therefore, it is important to understand the architecture of inactivated SARS-CoV-2. We have genetically and structurally characterized β-propiolactone-inactivated viruses from a propagated and purified clinical strain of SARS-CoV-2. We observed that the virus particles are roughly spherical or moderately pleiomorphic. Although a small fraction of prefusion spikes are found, most spikes appear nail shaped, thus resembling a postfusion state, where the S1 protein of the spike has disassociated from S2. Cryoelectron tomography and subtomogram averaging of these spikes yielded a density map that closely matches the overall structure of the SARS-CoV postfusion spike and its corresponding glycosylation site. Our findings have major implications for SARS-CoV-2 vaccine design, especially those using inactivated viruses.

Original publication




Journal article


Structure (London, England : 1993)

Publication Date





1218 - 1224.e4


Department of Biology, Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen 518055, Guangdong Province, China; Cryo-EM Center, Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen 518055, Guangdong Province, China.


Vero Cells, Animals, Humans, Virion, Coronavirus Infections, Propiolactone, Vaccines, Inactivated, Viral Vaccines, Disinfectants, Cryoelectron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus, Betacoronavirus, Chlorocebus aethiops, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 Vaccines