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Journal: bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology


A SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is needed to control the global COVID-19 public health crisis. Atomic-level structures directed the application of prefusion-stabilizing mutations that improved expression and immunogenicity of betacoronavirus spike proteins. Using this established immunogen design, the release of SARS-CoV-2 sequences triggered immediate rapid manufacturing of an mRNA vaccine expressing the prefusion-stabilized SARS-CoV-2 spike trimer (mRNA-1273). Here, we show that mRNA-1273 induces both potent neutralizing antibody and CD8 T cell responses and protects against SARS-CoV-2 infection in lungs and noses of mice without evidence of immunopathology. mRNA-1273 is currently in a Phase 2 clinical trial with a trajectory towards Phase 3 efficacy evaluation.


During the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in humans a D614G substitution in the spike (S) protein emerged and became the predominant circulating variant (S-614G) of the COVID-19 pandemic 1 . However, whether the increasing prevalence of the S-614G variant represents a fitness advantage that improves replication and/or transmission in humans or is merely due to founder effects remains elusive. Here, we generated isogenic SARS-CoV-2 variants and demonstrate that the S-614G variant has (i) enhanced binding to human ACE2, (ii) increased replication in primary human bronchial and nasal airway epithelial cultures as well as in a novel human ACE2 knock-in mouse model, and (iii) markedly increased replication and transmissibility in hamster and ferret models of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Collectively, our data show that while the S-614G substitution results in subtle increases in binding and replication in vitro , it provides a real competitive advantage in vivo , particularly during the transmission bottle neck, providing an explanation for the global predominance of S-614G variant among the SARS-CoV-2 viruses currently circulating.


The D614G substitution in the S protein is most prevalent SARS-CoV-2 strain circulating globally, but its effects in viral pathogenesis and transmission remain unclear. We engineered SARS-CoV-2 variants harboring the D614G substitution with or without nanoluciferase. The D614G variant replicates more efficiency in primary human proximal airway epithelial cells and is more fit than wildtype (WT) virus in competition studies. With similar morphology to the WT virion, the D614G virus is also more sensitive to SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies. Infection of human ACE2 transgenic mice and Syrian hamsters with the WT or D614G viruses produced similar titers in respiratory tissue and pulmonary disease. However, the D614G variant exhibited significantly faster droplet transmission between hamsters than the WT virus, early after infection. Our study demonstrated the SARS-CoV2 D614G substitution enhances infectivity, replication fitness, and early transmission.


Neutralizing antibodies elicited by prior infection or vaccination are likely to be key for future protection of individuals and populations against SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, passively administered antibodies are among the most promising therapeutic and prophylactic anti-SARS-CoV-2 agents. However, the degree to which SARS-CoV-2 will adapt to evade neutralizing antibodies is unclear. Using a recombinant chimeric VSV/SARS-CoV-2 reporter virus, we show that functional SARS-CoV-2 S protein variants with mutations in the receptor binding domain (RBD) and N-terminal domain that confer resistance to monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma can be readily selected. Notably, SARS-CoV-2 S variants that resist commonly elicited neutralizing antibodies are now present at low frequencies in circulating SARS-CoV-2 populations. Finally, the emergence of antibody-resistant SARS-CoV-2 variants that might limit the therapeutic usefulness of monoclonal antibodies can be mitigated by the use of antibody combinations that target distinct neutralizing epitopes.


The receptor binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein mediates viral attachment to ACE2 receptor, and is a major determinant of host range and a dominant target of neutralizing antibodies. Here we experimentally measure how all amino-acid mutations to the RBD affect expression of folded protein and its affinity for ACE2. Most mutations are deleterious for RBD expression and ACE2 binding, and we identify constrained regions on the RBD’s surface that may be desirable targets for vaccines and antibody-based therapeutics. But a substantial number of mutations are well tolerated or even enhance ACE2 binding, including at ACE2 interface residues that vary across SARS-related coronaviruses. However, we find no evidence that these ACE2-affinity enhancing mutations have been selected in current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic isolates. We present an interactive visualization and open analysis pipeline to facilitate use of our dataset for vaccine design and functional annotation of mutations observed during viral surveillance.


Antibodies are becoming a frontline therapy for SARS-CoV-2, but the risk of viral evolutionary escape remains unclear. Here we map how all mutations to SARS-CoV-2’s receptor-binding domain (RBD) affect binding by the antibodies in Regeneron’s REGN-COV2 cocktail and Eli Lilly’s LY-CoV016. These complete maps uncover a single amino-acid mutation that fully escapes the REGN-COV2 cocktail, which consists of two antibodies targeting distinct structural epitopes. The maps also identify viral mutations that are selected in a persistently infected patient treated with REGN-COV2, as well as in lab viral escape selections. Finally, the maps reveal that mutations escaping each individual antibody are already present in circulating SARS-CoV-2 strains. Overall, these complete escape maps enable immediate interpretation of the consequences of mutations observed during viral surveillance.


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has resulted in more than 7,000,000 infections and 400,000 deaths worldwide to date. Antibody development efforts mainly revolve around the extensively glycosylated SARSCoV-2 spike (S) protein, which mediates the host cell entry by binding to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). In the context of vaccine design, similar to many other viruses, the SARS-CoV-2 spike utilizes a glycan shield to thwart the host immune response. Here, we built a full-length model of glycosylated SARS-CoV-2 S protein, both in the open and closed states, augmenting the available structural and biological data. Multiple microsecond-long, all-atom molecular dynamics simulations were used to provide an atomistic perspective on the glycan shield and the protein structure, stability, and dynamics. End-to-end accessibility analyses outline a complete overview of the vulnerabilities of the glycan shield of SARS-CoV-2 S protein, which can be harnessed for vaccine development. In addition, a dynamic analysis of the main antibody epitopes is provided. Finally, beyond shielding, a possible structural role of N-glycans at N165 and N234 is hypothesized to modulate and stabilize the conformational dynamics of the spike’s receptor binding domain, which is responsible for ACE2 recognition. Overall, this work presents hitherto unseen functional and structural insights into the SARS-CoV-2 S protein and its glycan coat, which may be exploited by therapeutic efforts targeting this essential molecular machine.


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, caused by infection with SARS-CoV-2, is having a dramatic and deleterious impact on health services and the global economy. Grim public health statistics highlight the need for vaccines that can rapidly confer protection after a single dose and be manufactured using components suitable for scale-up and efficient distribution. In response, we have rapidly developed repRNA-CoV2S, a stable and highly immunogenic vaccine candidate comprised of an RNA replicon formulated with a novel Lipid InOrganic Nanoparticle (LION) designed to enhance vaccine stability, delivery and immunogenicity. We show that intramuscular injection of LION/repRNA-CoV2S elicits robust anti-SARS-CoV-2 spike protein IgG antibody isotypes indicative of a Type 1 T helper response as well as potent T cell responses in mice. Importantly, a single-dose administration in nonhuman primates elicited antibody responses that potently neutralized SARS-CoV-2. These data support further development of LION/repRNA-CoV2S as a vaccine candidate for prophylactic protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection.


Antibodies targeting the SARS-CoV-2 spike receptor-binding domain (RBD) are being developed as therapeutics and make a major contribution to the neutralizing antibody response elicited by infection. Here, we describe a deep mutational scanning method to map how all amino-acid mutations in the RBD affect antibody binding, and apply this method to 10 human monoclonal antibodies. The escape mutations cluster on several surfaces of the RBD that broadly correspond to structurally defined antibody epitopes. However, even antibodies targeting the same RBD surface often have distinct escape mutations. The complete escape maps predict which mutations are selected during viral growth in the presence of single antibodies, and enable us to design escape-resistant antibody cocktails-including cocktails of antibodies that compete for binding to the same surface of the RBD but have different escape mutations. Therefore, complete escape-mutation maps enable rational design of antibody therapeutics and assessment of the antigenic consequences of viral evolution.


Global spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) continues unabated. Binding of SARS-CoV-2’s Spike protein to host angiotensin converting enzyme 2 triggers viral entry, but other proteins may participate, including neuropilin-1 receptor (NRP-1). As both Spike protein and vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A) - a pro-nociceptive and angiogenic factor, bind NRP-1, we tested if Spike could block VEGF-A/NRP-1 signaling. VEGF-A-triggered sensory neuronal firing was blocked by Spike protein and NRP-1 inhibitor EG00229. Pro-nociceptive behaviors of VEGF-A were similarly blocked via suppression of spontaneous spinal synaptic activity and reduction of electrogenic currents in sensory neurons. Remarkably, preventing VEGF-A/NRP-1 signaling was antiallodynic in a neuropathic pain model. A ‘silencing’ of pain via subversion of VEGF-A/NRP-1 signaling may underlie increased disease transmission in asymptomatic individuals.