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Journal: bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology


Rapidly spreading variants of SARS-CoV-2 that have arisen in the United Kingdom and South Africa share the spike N501Y substitution, which is of particular concern because it is located in the viral receptor binding site for cell entry and increases binding to the receptor (angiotensin converting enzyme 2). We generated isogenic N501 and Y501 SARS-CoV-2. Sera of 20 participants in a previously reported trial of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine BNT162b2 had equivalent neutralizing titers to the N501 and Y501 viruses.


Prolonged SARS-CoV-2 RNA shedding and recurrence of PCR-positive tests have been widely reported in patients after recovery, yet these patients most commonly are non-infectious. Here we investigated the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 RNAs can be reverse-transcribed and integrated into the human genome and that transcription of the integrated sequences might account for PCR-positive tests. In support of this hypothesis, we found chimeric transcripts consisting of viral fused to cellular sequences in published data sets of SARS-CoV-2 infected cultured cells and primary cells of patients, consistent with the transcription of viral sequences integrated into the genome. To experimentally corroborate the possibility of viral retro-integration, we describe evidence that SARS-CoV-2 RNAs can be reverse transcribed in human cells by reverse transcriptase (RT) from LINE-1 elements or by HIV-1 RT, and that these DNA sequences can be integrated into the cell genome and subsequently be transcribed. Human endogenous LINE-1 expression was induced upon SARS-CoV-2 infection or by cytokine exposure in cultured cells, suggesting a molecular mechanism for SARS-CoV-2 retro-integration in patients. This novel feature of SARS-CoV-2 infection may explain why patients can continue to produce viral RNA after recovery and suggests a new aspect of RNA virus replication.


To date severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) has infected nearly 100 million individuals resulting in over two million deaths. Many vaccines are being deployed to prevent coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) including two novel mRNA-based vaccines 1,2 . These vaccines elicit neutralizing antibodies and appear to be safe and effective, but the precise nature of the elicited antibodies is not known 3-5 . Here we report on the antibody and memory B cell responses in a cohort of 20 volunteers who received either the Moderna (mRNA-1273) or Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) vaccines. Consistent with prior reports, 8 weeks after the second vaccine injection volunteers showed high levels of IgM, and IgG anti-SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (S), receptor binding domain (RBD) binding titers 3,5 . Moreover, the plasma neutralizing activity, and the relative numbers of RBD-specific memory B cells were equivalent to individuals who recovered from natural infection 6,7 . However, activity against SARS-CoV-2 variants encoding E484K or N501Y or the K417N:E484K:N501Y combination was reduced by a small but significant margin. Consistent with these findings, vaccine-elicited monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) potently neutralize SARS-CoV-2, targeting a number of different RBD epitopes epitopes in common with mAbs isolated from infected donors. Structural analyses of mAbs complexed with S trimer suggest that vaccine- and virus-encoded S adopts similar conformations to induce equivalent anti-RBD antibodies. However, neutralization by 14 of the 17 most potent mAbs tested was reduced or abolished by either K417N, or E484K, or N501Y mutations. Notably, the same mutations were selected when recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV)/SARS-CoV-2 S was cultured in the presence of the vaccine elicited mAbs. Taken together the results suggest that the monoclonal antibodies in clinical use should be tested against newly arising variants, and that mRNA vaccines may need to be updated periodically to avoid potential loss of clinical efficacy.


SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2, a novel lineage of the coronavirus causing COVID-19, contains multiple mutations within two immunodominant domains of the spike protein. Here we show that this lineage exhibits complete escape from three classes of therapeutically relevant monoclonal antibodies. Furthermore 501Y.V2 shows substantial or complete escape from neutralizing antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma. These data highlight the prospect of reinfection with antigenically distinct variants and may foreshadow reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines.


The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants highlighted the need to better understand adaptive immune responses to this virus. It is important to address whether also CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses are affected, because of the role they play in disease resolution and modulation of COVID-19 disease severity. Here we performed a comprehensive analysis of SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses from COVID-19 convalescent subjects recognizing the ancestral strain, compared to variant lineages B.1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1, and CAL.20C as well as recipients of the Moderna (mRNA-1273) or Pfizer/BioNTech (BNT162b2) COVID-19 vaccines. Similarly, we demonstrate that the sequences of the vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 T cell epitopes are not affected by the mutations found in the variants analyzed. Overall, the results demonstrate that CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses in convalescent COVID-19 subjects or COVID-19 mRNA vaccinees are not substantially affected by mutations found in the SARS-CoV-2 variants.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the causative infection of a global pandemic that has led to more than 2 million deaths worldwide. The Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine has demonstrated ~94% efficacy in a Phase 3 study and has been approved under Emergency Use Authorization. The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants with mutations in the spike protein, most recently circulating isolates from the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7) and Republic of South Africa (B.1.351), has led to lower neutralization from convalescent serum by pseudovirus neutralization (PsVN) assays and resistance to certain monoclonal antibodies. Here, using two orthogonal VSV and lentivirus PsVN assays expressing spike variants of 20E (EU1), 20A.EU2, D614G-N439, mink cluster 5, B.1.1.7, and B.1.351 variants, we assessed the neutralizing capacity of sera from human subjects or non-human primates (NHPs) that received mRNA-1273. No significant impact on neutralization against the B.1.1.7 variant was detected in either case, however reduced neutralization was measured against the mutations present in B.1.351. Geometric mean titer (GMT) of human sera from clinical trial participants in VSV PsVN assay using D614G spike was 1/1852. VSV pseudoviruses with spike containing K417N-E484K-N501Y-D614G and full B.1.351 mutations resulted in 2.7 and 6.4-fold GMT reduction, respectively, when compared to the D614G VSV pseudovirus. Importantly, the VSV PsVN GMT of these human sera to the full B.1.351 spike variant was still 1/290, with all evaluated sera able to fully neutralize. Similarly, sera from NHPs immunized with 30 or 100μg of mRNA-1273 had VSV PsVN GMTs of ~ 1/323 or 1/404, respectively, against the full B.1.351 spike variant with a ~ 5 to 10-fold reduction compared to D614G. Individual mutations that are characteristic of the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants had a similar impact on neutralization when tested in VSV or in lentivirus PsVN assays. Despite the observed decreases, the GMT of VSV PsVN titers in human vaccinee sera against the B.1.351 variant remained at ~1/300. Taken together these data demonstrate reduced but still significant neutralization against the full B.1.351 variant following mRNA-1273 vaccination.


Although COVID-19 causes cardiac dysfunction in up to 25% of patients, its pathogenesis remains unclear. Exposure of human iPSC-derived heart cells to SARS-CoV-2 revealed productive infection and robust transcriptomic and morphological signatures of damage, particularly in cardiomyocytes. Transcriptomic disruption of structural proteins corroborated adverse morphologic features, which included a distinct pattern of myofibrillar fragmentation and numerous iPSC-cardiomyocytes lacking nuclear DNA. Human autopsy specimens from COVID-19 patients displayed similar sarcomeric disruption, as well as cardiomyocytes without DNA staining. These striking cytopathic features provide new insights into SARS-CoV-2 induced cardiac damage, offer a platform for discovery of potential therapeutics, and raise serious concerns about the long-term consequences of COVID-19.


To investigate the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in the immune population, we co-incubated authentic virus with a highly neutralizing plasma from a COVID-19 convalescent patient. The plasma fully neutralized the virus for 7 passages, but after 45 days, the deletion of F140 in the spike N-terminal domain (NTD) N3 loop led to partial breakthrough. At day 73, an E484K substitution in the receptor-binding domain (RBD) occurred, followed at day 80 by an insertion in the NTD N5 loop containing a new glycan sequon, which generated a variant completely resistant to plasma neutralization. Computational modeling predicts that the deletion and insertion in loops N3 and N5 prevent binding of neutralizing antibodies. The recent emergence in the United Kingdom and South Africa of natural variants with similar changes suggests that SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to escape an effective immune response and that vaccines and antibodies able to control emerging variants should be developed.


We engineered three SARS-CoV-2 viruses containing key spike mutations from the newly emerged United Kingdom (UK) and South African (SA) variants: N501Y from UK and SA; 69/70-deletion+N501Y+D614G from UK; and E484K+N501Y+D614G from SA. Neutralization geometric mean titers (GMTs) of twenty BTN162b2 vaccine-elicited human sera against the three mutant viruses were 0.81- to 1.46-fold of the GMTs against parental virus, indicating small effects of these mutations on neutralization by sera elicited by two BNT162b2 doses.


Although COVID-19 is considered to be primarily a respiratory disease, SARS-CoV-2 affects multiple organ systems including the central nervous system (CNS). Yet, there is no consensus whether the virus can infect the brain, or what the consequences of CNS infection are. Here, we used three independent approaches to probe the capacity of SARS-CoV-2 to infect the brain. First, using human brain organoids, we observed clear evidence of infection with accompanying metabolic changes in the infected and neighboring neurons. However, no evidence for the type I interferon responses was detected. We demonstrate that neuronal infection can be prevented either by blocking ACE2 with antibodies or by administering cerebrospinal fluid from a COVID-19 patient. Second, using mice overexpressing human ACE2, we demonstrate in vivo that SARS-CoV-2 neuroinvasion, but not respiratory infection, is associated with mortality. Finally, in brain autopsy from patients who died of COVID-19, we detect SARS-CoV-2 in the cortical neurons, and note pathologic features associated with infection with minimal immune cell infiltrates. These results provide evidence for the neuroinvasive capacity of SARS-CoV2, and an unexpected consequence of direct infection of neurons by SARS-CoV-2.