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1.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-507349

ABSTRACT

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in late 2019 and has resulted in millions of death globally. The need to understand the pandemic means that detailed descriptions of features of this virus are now of interest to non-expert audiences. In particular, there has been much public interest in the spike protein that protrudes from the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus particle. The spike is the major determinant of viral infectivity and the main target for protective immune responses, and included in vaccines, and so its properties influence the impact of the pandemic on peoples lives. This protein is rapidly evolving, with mutations that enhance transmissibility or weaken vaccine protection creating new variants of concern (VOCs) and associated sub-lineages. The spread of SARS-CoV-2 VOCs has been tracked by groups such as the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium (COG-UK). Their online mutation explorer (COG-UK/ME), which analyses and shares SARS-CoV-2 sequence data, contains information about VOCs that is designed primarily for an expert audience but is potentially of general interest during a pandemic. We wished to make this detailed information about SARS-CoV-2 VOCs more widely accessible. Previously work has shown that visualisations and interactivity can facilitate active learning and boost engagement with molecular biology topics, while animations of these topics can boost understanding on protein structure, function, and dynamics. We therefore set out to develop an educational graphical resource, the SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Mutation Explorer (SSPME), which contains interactive 3D molecular models and animations explaining SARS-CoV-2 spike protein variants and VOCs. We performed user-testing of the original COG-UK/ME website and of the SSPME, using a within-groups design to measure knowledge acquisition and a between-groups design to contrast the effectiveness and usability. Statistical analysis demonstrated that, when compared to the COG-UK/ME, the SSPME had higher usability and significantly improved participant knowledge confidence and knowledge acquisition. The SSPME therefore provides an example of how 3D interactive visualisations can be used for effective science communication and education on complex biomedical topics, as well as being a resource to improve the public understanding of SARS-CoV-2 VOCs.

2.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-22272915

ABSTRACT

ObjectiveTo determine how the severity of successively dominant SARS-CoV-2 variants changed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. DesignRetrospective cohort analysis. SettingCommunity- and hospital-sequenced COVID-19 cases in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHS GG&C) Health Board. ParticipantsAll sequenced non-nosocomial adult COVID-19 cases in NHS GG&C infected with the relevant SARS-CoV-2 lineages during analysis periods. B.1.177/Alpha: 1st November 2020 - 30th January 2021 (n = 1640). Alpha/Delta: 1st April - 30th June 2021 (n = 5552). AY.4.2 Delta/non-AY.4.2 Delta: 1st July - 31st October 2021 (n = 9613). Non-AY.4.2 Delta/Omicron: 1st - 31st December 2021 (n = 3858). Main outcome measuresAdmission to hospital, ICU, or death within 28 days of positive COVID-19 test ResultsFor B.1.177/Alpha, 300 of 807 B.1.177 cases were recorded as hospitalised or worse, compared to 232 of 833 Alpha cases. After adjustment, the cumulative odds ratio was 1.51 (95% CI: 1.08-2.11) for Alpha versus B.1.177. For Alpha/Delta, 113 of 2104 Alpha cases were recorded as hospitalised or worse, compared to 230 of 3448 Delta cases. After adjustment, the cumulative odds ratio was 2.09 (95% CI: 1.42-3.08) for Delta versus Alpha. For non-AY.4.2 Delta/AY.4.2 Delta, 845 of 8644 non-AY.4.2 Delta cases were recorded as hospitalised or worse, compared to 101 of 969 AY.4.2 Delta cases. After adjustment, the cumulative odds ratio was 0.99 (95% CI: 0.76-1.27) for AY.4.2 Delta versus non-AY.4.2 Delta. For non-AY.4.2 Delta/Omicron, 30 of 1164 non-AY.4.2 Delta cases were recorded as hospitalised or worse, compared to 26 of 2694 Omicron cases. After adjustment, the median cumulative odds ratio was 0.49 (95% CI: 0.22-1.06) for Omicron versus non-AY.4.2 Delta. ConclusionsThe direction of change in disease severity between successively emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern was inconsistent. This heterogeneity demonstrates that severity associated with future SARS-CoV-2 variants is unpredictable.

3.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-481609

ABSTRACT

The first SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern (VOC) to be designated was lineage B.1.1.7, later labelled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as Alpha. Originating in early Autumn but discovered in December 2020, it spread rapidly and caused large waves of infections worldwide. The Alpha variant is notable for being defined by a long ancestral phylogenetic branch with an increased evolutionary rate, along which only two sequences have been sampled. Alpha genomes comprise a well-supported monophyletic clade within which the evolutionary rate is more typical of SARS-CoV-2. The Alpha epidemic continued to grow despite the continued restrictions on social mixing across the UK, and the imposition of new restrictions, in particular the English national lockdown in November 2020. While these interventions succeeded in reducing the absolute number of cases, the impact of these non-pharmaceutical interventions was predominantly to drive the decline of the SARS-CoV-2 lineages which preceded Alpha. We investigate the only two sampled sequences that fall on the branch ancestral to Alpha. We find that one is likely to be a true intermediate sequence, providing information about the order of mutational events that led to Alpha. We explore alternate hypotheses that can explain how Alpha acquired a large number of mutations yet remained largely unobserved in a region of high genomic surveillance: an under-sampled geographical location, a non-human animal population, or a chronically-infected individual. We conclude that the last hypothesis provides the best explanation of the observed behaviour and dynamics of the variant, although we find that the individual need not be immunocompromised, as persistently-infected immunocompetent hosts also display a higher within-host rate of evolution. Finally, we compare the ancestral branches and mutation profiles of other VOCs to each other, and identify that Delta appears to be an outlier both in terms of the genomic locations of its defining mutations, and its lack of rapid evolutionary rate on the ancestral branch. As new variants, such as Omicron, continue to evolve (potentially through similar mechanisms) it remains important to investigate the origins of other variants to identify ways to potentially disrupt their evolution and emergence.

4.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-22270799

ABSTRACT

IntroductionViral sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 has been used for outbreak investigation, but there is limited evidence supporting routine use for infection prevention and control (IPC) within hospital settings. MethodsWe conducted a prospective non-randomised trial of sequencing at 14 acute UK hospital trusts. Sites each had a 4-week baseline data-collection period, followed by intervention periods comprising 8 weeks of rapid (<48h) and 4 weeks of longer-turnaround (5-10 day) sequencing using a sequence reporting tool (SRT). Data were collected on all hospital onset COVID-19 infections (HOCIs; detected [≥]48h from admission). The impact of the sequencing intervention on IPC knowledge and actions, and on incidence of probable/definite hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) was evaluated. ResultsA total of 2170 HOCI cases were recorded from October 2020-April 2021, with sequence reports returned for 650/1320 (49.2%) during intervention phases. We did not detect a statistically significant change in weekly incidence of HAIs in longer-turnaround (IRR 1.60, 95%CI 0.85-3.01; P=0.14) or rapid (0.85, 0.48-1.50; P=0.54) intervention phases compared to baseline phase. However, IPC practice was changed in 7.8% and 7.4% of all HOCI cases in rapid and longer-turnaround phases, respectively, and 17.2% and 11.6% of cases where the report was returned. In a per-protocol sensitivity analysis there was an impact on IPC actions in 20.7% of HOCI cases when the SRT report was returned within 5 days. ConclusionWhile we did not demonstrate a direct impact of sequencing on the incidence of nosocomial transmission, our results suggest that sequencing can inform IPC response to HOCIs, particularly when returned within 5 days.

5.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-476382

ABSTRACT

Among the 30 non-synonymous nucleotide substitutions in the Omicron S-gene are 13 that have only rarely been seen in other SARS-CoV-2 sequences. These mutations cluster within three functionally important regions of the S-gene at sites that will likely impact (i) interactions between subunits of the Spike trimer and the predisposition of subunits to shift from down to up configurations, (ii) interactions of Spike with ACE2 receptors, and (iii) the priming of Spike for membrane fusion. We show here that, based on both the rarity of these 13 mutations in intrapatient sequencing reads and patterns of selection at the codon sites where the mutations occur in SARS-CoV-2 and related sarbecoviruses, prior to the emergence of Omicron the mutations would have been predicted to decrease the fitness of any genomes within which they occurred. We further propose that the mutations in each of the three clusters therefore cooperatively interact to both mitigate their individual fitness costs, and adaptively alter the function of Spike. Given the evident epidemic growth advantages of Omicron over all previously known SARS-CoV-2 lineages, it is crucial to determine both how such complex and highly adaptive mutation constellations were assembled within the Omicron S-gene, and why, despite unprecedented global genomic surveillance efforts, the early stages of this assembly process went completely undetected.

6.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21268111

ABSTRACT

Vaccines based on the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 are a cornerstone of the public health response to COVID-19. The emergence of hypermutated, increasingly transmissible variants of concern (VOCs) threaten this strategy. Omicron, the fifth VOC to be described, harbours 30 amino acid mutations in spike including 15 in the receptor-binding domain. Here, we demonstrate substantial evasion of neutralisation by Omicron in vitro using sera from vaccinated individuals. Importantly, these data are mirrored by a substantial reduction in real-world vaccine effectiveness that is partially restored by booster vaccination. We also demonstrate that Omicron does not induce cell syncytia and favours a TMPRSS2-independent endosomal entry pathway. Such marked changes in antigenicity and replicative biology may underlie the rapid global spread and altered pathogenicity of the Omicron variant.

7.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-469423

ABSTRACT

Recombination contributes to the genetic diversity found in coronaviruses and is known to be a prominent mechanism whereby they evolve. It is apparent, both from controlled experiments and in genome sequences sampled from nature, that patterns of recombination in coronaviruses are non-random and that this is likely attributable to a combination of sequence features that favour the occurrence of recombination breakpoints at specific genomic sites, and selection disfavouring the survival of recombinants within which favourable intra-genome interactions have been disrupted. Here we leverage available whole-genome sequence data for six coronavirus subgenera to identify specific patterns of recombination that are conserved between multiple subgenera and then identify the likely factors that underlie these conserved patterns. Specifically, we confirm the non-randomness of recombination breakpoints across all six tested coronavirus subgenera, locate conserved recombination hot- and cold-spots, and determine that the locations of transcriptional regulatory sequences are likely major determinants of conserved recombination breakpoint hot-spot locations. We find that while the locations of recombination breakpoints are not uniformly associated with degrees of nucleotide sequence conservation, they display significant tendencies in multiple coronavirus subgenera to occur in low guanine-cytosine content genome regions, in non-coding regions, at the edges of genes, and at sites within the Spike gene that are predicted to be minimally disruptive of Spike protein folding. While it is apparent that sequence features such as transcriptional regulatory sequences are likely major determinants of where the template-switching events that yield recombination breakpoints most commonly occur, it is evident that selection against misfolded recombinant proteins also strongly impacts observable recombination breakpoint distributions in coronavirus genomes sampled from nature.

8.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21260128

ABSTRACT

ObjectivesThe SARS-CoV-2 Alpha variant was associated with increased transmission relative to other variants present at the time of its emergence and several studies have shown an association between Alpha variant infection and increased hospitalisation and 28-day mortality. However, none have addressed the impact on maximum severity of illness in the general population classified by the level of respiratory support required, or death. We aimed to do this. MethodsIn this retrospective multi-centre clinical cohort sub-study of the COG-UK consortium, 1475 samples from Scottish hospitalised and community cases collected between 1st November 2020 and 30th January 2021 were sequenced. We matched sequence data to clinical outcomes as the variant became dominant in Scotland and modelled the association between Alpha variant infection and severe disease using a 4-point scale of maximum severity by 28 days: 1. no respiratory support, 2. supplemental oxygen, 3. ventilation and 4. death. ResultsOur cumulative generalised linear mixed model analyses found evidence (cumulative odds ratio: 1.40, 95% CI: 1.02, 1.93) of a positive association between increased clinical severity and lineage (Alpha variant versus non-Alpha variant). ConclusionsThe Alpha variant was associated with more severe clinical disease in the Scottish population than co-circulating lineages.

9.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21259327

ABSTRACT

Vaccines are proving to be highly effective in controlling hospitalisation and deaths associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection but the emergence of viral variants with novel antigenic profiles threatens to diminish their efficacy. Assessment of the ability of sera from vaccine recipients to neutralise SARS-CoV-2 variants will inform the success of strategies for minimising COVID19 cases and the design of effective antigenic formulations. Here, we examine the sensitivity of variants of concern (VOCs) representative of the B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 (first associated with infections in India) and B.1.351 (first associated with infection in South Africa) lineages of SARS-CoV-2 to neutralisation by sera from individuals vaccinated with the BNT162b2 (Pfizer/BioNTech) and ChAdOx1 (Oxford/AstraZeneca) vaccines. Across all vaccinated individuals, the spike glycoproteins from B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 conferred reductions in neutralisation of 4.31 and 5.11-fold respectively. The reduction seen with the B.1.617.2 lineage approached that conferred by the glycoprotein from B.1.351 (South African) variant (6.29-fold reduction) that is known to be associated with reduced vaccine efficacy. Neutralising antibody titres elicited by vaccination with two doses of BNT162b2 were significantly higher than those elicited by vaccination with two doses of ChAdOx1. Fold decreases in the magnitude of neutralisation titre following two doses of BNT162b2, conferred reductions in titre of 7.77, 11.30 and 9.56-fold respectively to B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.351 pseudoviruses, the reduction in neutralisation of the delta variant B.1.617.2 surpassing that of B.1.351. Fold changes in those vaccinated with two doses of ChAdOx1 were 0.69, 4.01 and 1.48 respectively. The accumulation of mutations in these VOCs, and others, demonstrate the quantifiable risk of antigenic drift and subsequent reduction in vaccine efficacy. Accordingly, booster vaccines based on updated variants are likely to be required over time to prevent productive infection. This study also suggests that two dose regimes of vaccine are required for maximal BNT162b2 and ChAdOx1-induced immunity.

10.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21259286

ABSTRACT

SARS-CoV-2 evolution threatens vaccine- and natural infection-derived immunity, and the efficacy of therapeutic antibodies. Herein we sought to predict Spike amino acid changes that could contribute to future variants of concern. We tested the importance of features comprising epidemiology, evolution, immunology, and neural network-based protein sequence modeling. This resulted in identification of the primary biological drivers of SARS-CoV-2 intra-pandemic evolution. We found evidence that resistance to population-level host immunity has increasingly shaped SARS-CoV-2 evolution over time. We identified with high accuracy mutations that will spread, at up to four months in advance, across different phases of the pandemic. Behavior of the model was consistent with a plausible causal structure wherein epidemiological variables integrate the effects of diverse and shifting drivers of viral fitness. We applied our model to forecast mutations that will spread in the future, and characterize how these mutations affect the binding of therapeutic antibodies. These findings demonstrate that it is possible to forecast the driver mutations that could appear in emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. This modeling approach may be applied to any pathogen with genomic surveillance data, and so may address other rapidly evolving pathogens such as influenza, and unknown future pandemic viruses.

11.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21258689

ABSTRACT

We present evidence for multiple independent origins of recombinant SARS-CoV-2 viruses sampled from late 2020 and early 2021 in the United Kingdom. Their genomes carry single nucleotide polymorphisms and deletions that are characteristic of the B.1.1.7 variant of concern, but lack the full complement of lineage-defining mutations. Instead, the remainder of their genomes share contiguous genetic variation with non-B.1.1.7 viruses circulating in the same geographic area at the same time as the recombinants. In four instances there was evidence for onward transmission of a recombinant-origin virus, including one transmission cluster of 45 sequenced cases over the course of two months. The inferred genomic locations of recombination breakpoints suggest that every community-transmitted recombinant virus inherited its spike region from a B.1.1.7 parental virus, consistent with a transmission advantage for B.1.1.7s set of mutations.

12.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21256681

ABSTRACT

Cell autonomous antiviral defenses can inhibit the replication of viruses and reduce transmission and disease severity. To better understand the antiviral response to SARS-CoV-2, we used interferon-stimulated gene (ISG) expression screening to reveal that OAS1, through RNase L, potently inhibits SARS-CoV-2. We show that while some people can express a prenylated OAS1 variant, that is membrane-associated and blocks SARS-CoV-2 infection, other people express a cytosolic, nonprenylated OAS1 variant which does not detect SARS-CoV-2 (determined by the splice-acceptor SNP Rs10774671). Alleles encoding nonprenylated OAS1 predominate except in people of African descent. Importantly, in hospitalized patients, expression of prenylated OAS1 was associated with protection from severe COVID-19, suggesting this antiviral defense is a major component of a protective antiviral response. Remarkably, approximately 55 million years ago, retrotransposition ablated the OAS1 prenylation signal in horseshoe bats (the presumed source of SARS-CoV-2). Thus, SARS-CoV-2 never had to adapt to evade this defense. As prenylated OAS1 is widespread in animals, the billions of people that lack a prenylated OAS1 could make humans particularly vulnerable to the spillover of coronaviruses from horseshoe bats.

13.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-438675

ABSTRACT

Defining the unique properties of SARS-CoV-2 protein sequences, has potential to explain the range of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) severity. To achieve this we compared proteins encoded by all Sarbecoviruses using profile Hidden Markov Model similarities to identify protein features unique to SARS-CoV-2. Consistent with previous reports, a small set of bat and pangolin-derived Sarbecoviruses show the greatest similarity to SARS-CoV-2 but unlikely to be the direct source of SARS-CoV-2. Three proteins (nsp3, spike and orf9) showed differing regions between the bat Sarbecoviruses and SARS-CoV-2 and indicate virus protein features that might have evolved to support human infection and/or transmission. Spike analysis identified all regions of the protein that have tolerated change and revealed that the current SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs) have sampled only a fraction (~31%) of the possible spike domain changes which have occurred historically in Sarbecovirus evolution. This result emphasises the evolvability of these coronaviruses and potential for further change in virus replication and transmission properties over the coming years.

14.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21253587

ABSTRACT

ObjectivesPatients requiring haemodialysis are at increased risk of serious illness with SARS-CoV-2 infection. To improve the understanding of transmission risks in six Scottish renal dialysis units, we utilised the rapid whole-genome sequencing data generated by the COG-UK consortium. MethodsWe combined geographical, temporal and genomic sequence data from the community and hospital to estimate the probability of infection originating from within the dialysis unit, the hospital or the community using Bayesian statistical modelling and compared these results to the details of epidemiological investigations. ResultsOf 671 patients, 60 (8.9%) became infected with SARS-CoV-2, of whom 16 (27%) died. Within-unit and community transmission were both evident and an instance of transmission from the wider hospital setting was also demonstrated. ConclusionsNear-real-time SARS-CoV-2 sequencing data can facilitate tailored infection prevention and control measures, which can be targeted at reducing risk in these settings.

15.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21252268

ABSTRACT

The emergence and rapid rise in prevalence of three independent SARS-CoV-2 "501Y lineages, B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1, in the last three months of 2020 prompted renewed concerns about the evolutionary capacity of SARS-CoV-2 to adapt to both rising population immunity, and public health interventions such as vaccines and social distancing. Viruses giving rise to the different 501Y lineages have, presumably under intense natural selection following a shift in host environment, independently acquired multiple unique and convergent mutations. As a consequence, all have gained epidemiological and immunological properties that will likely complicate the control of COVID-19. Here, by examining patterns of mutations that arose in SARS-CoV-2 genomes during the pandemic we find evidence of a major change in the selective forces acting on various SARS-CoV-2 genes and gene segments (such as S, nsp2 and nsp6), that likely coincided with the emergence of the 501Y lineages. In addition to involving continuing sequence diversification, we find evidence that a significant portion of the ongoing adaptive evolution of the 501Y lineages also involves further convergence between the lineages. Our findings highlight the importance of monitoring how members of these known 501Y lineages, and others still undiscovered, are convergently evolving similar strategies to ensure their persistence in the face of mounting infection and vaccine induced host immune recognition.

16.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-427830

ABSTRACT

The lack of an identifiable intermediate host species for the proximal animal ancestor of SARS-CoV-2, and the large geographical distance between Wuhan and where the closest evolutionary related coronaviruses circulating in horseshoe bats (Sarbecoviruses) have been identified, is fuelling speculation on the natural origins of SARS-CoV-2. We have comprehensively analysed phylogenetic relations between SARS-CoV-2, and the related bat and pangolin Sarbecoviruses sampled so far. Determining the likely recombination events reveals a highly reticulate evolutionary history within this group of coronaviruses. Clustering of the inferred recombination events is non-random with evidence that Spike, the main target for humoral immunity, is beside a recombination hotspot likely driving antigenic shift in the ancestry of bat Sarbecoviruses. Coupled with the geographic ranges of their hosts and the sampling locations, across southern China, and into Southeast Asia, we confirm horseshoe bats, Rhinolophus, are the likely SARS-CoV-2 progenitor reservoir species. By tracing the recombinant sequence patterns, we conclude that there has been relatively recent geographic movement and co-circulation of these viruses ancestors, extending across their bat host ranges in China and Southeast Asia over the last 100 years or so. We confirm that a direct proximal ancestor to SARS-CoV-2 is yet to be sampled, since the closest relative shared a common ancestor with SARS-CoV-2 approximately 40 years ago. Our analysis highlights the need for more wildlife sampling to (i) pinpoint the exact origins of SARS-CoV-2s animal progenitor, and (ii) survey the extent of the diversity in the related Sarbecoviruses phylogeny that present high risk for future spillover. HighlightsO_LIThe origin of SARS-CoV-2 can be traced to horseshoe bats, genus Rhinolophus, with ranges in both China and Southeast Asia. C_LIO_LIThe closest known relatives of SARS-CoV-2 exhibit frequent transmission among their Rhinolophus host species. C_LIO_LISarbecoviruses have undergone extensive recombination throughout their evolutionary history. C_LIO_LIAccounting for the mosaic patterns of these recombinants is important when inferring relatedness to SARS-CoV-2. C_LIO_LIBreakpoint patterns are consistent with recombination hotspots in the coronavirus genome, particularly upstream of the pike open reading frame with a coldspot in S1. C_LI

17.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20248677

ABSTRACT

The second SARS virus, SARS-CoV-2, emerged in December 2019, and within a month was globally distributed. It was first introduced into Scotland in February 2020 associated with returning travellers and visitors. By March it was circulating in communities across the UK, and to control COVID-19 cases, and prevent overwhelming of the National Health Service (NHS), a lockdown was introduced on 23rd March 2020 with a restriction of peoples movements. To augment the public health efforts a large-scale genome epidemiology effort (as part of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium) resulted in the sequencing of over 5000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes by 18th August 2020 from Scottish cases, about a quarter of the estimated number of cases at that time. Here we quantify the geographical origins of the first wave introductions into Scotland from abroad and other UK regions, the spread of these SARS-CoV-2 lineages to different regions within Scotland (defined at the level of NHS Health Board) and the effect of lockdown on virus success. We estimate that approximately 300 introductions seeded lineages in Scotland, with around 25% of these lineages composed of more than five viruses, but by June circulating lineages were reduced to low levels, in line with low numbers of recorded positive cases. Lockdown was, thus, associated with a dramatic reduction in infection numbers and the extinguishing of most virus lineages. Unfortunately since the summer cases have been rising in Scotland in a second wave, with >1000 people testing positive on a daily basis, and hospitalisation of COVID-19 cases on the rise again. Examining the available Scottish genome data from the second wave, and comparing it to the first wave, we find that while some UK lineages have persisted through the summer, the majority of lineages responsible for the second wave are new introductions from outside of Scotland and many from outside of the UK. This indicates that, while lockdown in Scotland is directly linked with the first wave case numbers being brought under control, travel-associated imports (mostly from Europe or other parts of the UK) following the easing of lockdown are responsible for seeding the current epidemic population. This demonstrates that the impact of stringent public health measures can be compromised if following this, movements from regions of high to low prevalence are not minimised.

18.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-424739

ABSTRACT

The clinical outcome of COVID-19 has an extreme age, genetic and comorbidity bias that is thought to be driven by an impaired immune response to SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of the disease. The unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on global health has resulted in multiple studies generating extensive gene expression datasets in a relatively short period of time. In order to better understand the immune dysregulation induced by SARS-CoV-2, we carried out a meta-analysis of these transcriptomics data available in the published literature. Datasets included both those available from SARS-CoV-2 infected cell lines in vitro and those from patient samples. We focused our analysis on the identification of viral perturbed host functions as captured by co-expressed gene module analysis. Transcriptomics data from lung biopsies and nasopharyngeal samples, as opposed to those available from other clinical samples and infected cell lines, provided key signatures on the role of the hosts immune response on COVID-19 pathogenesis. For example, severity of infection and patients age are linked to the absence of stimulation of the RIG-I-like receptor signaling pathway, a known critical immediate line of defense against RNA viral infections that triggers type-I interferon responses. In addition, co-expression analysis of age-stratified transcriptional data provided evidence that signatures of key immune response pathways are perturbed in older COVID-19 patients. In particular, dysregulation of antigen-presenting components, down-regulation of cell cycle mechanisms and signatures of hyper-enriched monocytes were strongly correlated with the age of older individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2. Collectively, our meta-analysis highlights the ability of transcriptomics and gene-module analysis of aggregated datasets to aid our improved understanding of the host-specific disease mechanisms underpinning COVID-19.

19.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-422555

ABSTRACT

SARS-CoV-2 amino acid replacements in the receptor binding domain (RBD) occur relatively frequently and some have a consequence for immune recognition. Here we report recurrent emergence and significant onward transmission of a six-nucleotide out of frame deletion in the S gene, which results in loss of two amino acids: H69 and V70. We report that in human infections {Delta}H69/V70 often co-occurs with the receptor binding motif amino acid replacements N501Y, N439K and Y453F, and in the latter two cases has followed the RBD mutation. One of the {Delta}H69/V70+ N501Y lineages, now known as B.1.1.7, has undergone rapid expansion and includes eight S gene mutations: RBD (N501Y and A570D), S1 ({Delta}H69/V70 and {Delta}144) and S2 (P681H, T716I, S982A and D1118H). In vitro, we show that {Delta}H69/V70 does not reduce serum neutralisation across multiple convalescent sera. However, {Delta}H69/V70 increases infectivity and is associated with increased incorporation of cleaved spike into virions. {Delta}H69/V70 is able to compensate for small infectivity defects induced by RBD mutations N501Y, N439K and Y453F. In addition, replacement of H69 and V70 residues in the B.1.1.7 spike reduces its infectivity and spike mediated cell-cell fusion. Based on our data {Delta}H69/V70 likely acts as a permissive mutation that allows acquisition of otherwise deleterious immune escape mutations. Enhanced surveillance for the {Delta}H69/V70 deletion with and without RBD mutations should be considered as a global priority not only as a marker for the B.1.1.7 variant, but potentially also for other emerging variants of concern. Vaccines designed to target the deleted spike protein could mitigate against its emergence as increased selective forces from immunity and vaccines increase globally. HighlightsO_LI{Delta}H69/V70 is present in at least 28 SARS-CoV-2 lineages C_LIO_LI{Delta}H69/V70 does not confer escape from convalescent sera C_LIO_LI{Delta}H69/V70 increases spike infectivity and compensates for RBD mutations C_LIO_LI{Delta}H69/V70 is associated with greater spike cleavage C_LIO_LIB.1.1.7 requires {Delta}H69/V70 for optimal spike cleavage and infectivity C_LI

20.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-355842

ABSTRACT

SARS-CoV-2 can mutate to evade immunity, with consequences for the efficacy of emerging vaccines and antibody therapeutics. Herein we demonstrate that the immunodominant SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) receptor binding motif (RBM) is the most divergent region of S, and provide epidemiological, clinical, and molecular characterization of a prevalent RBM variant, N439K. We demonstrate that N439K S protein has enhanced binding affinity to the hACE2 receptor, and that N439K virus has similar clinical outcomes and in vitro replication fitness as compared to wild- type. We observed that the N439K mutation resulted in immune escape from a panel of neutralizing monoclonal antibodies, including one in clinical trials, as well as from polyclonal sera from a sizeable fraction of persons recovered from infection. Immune evasion mutations that maintain virulence and fitness such as N439K can emerge within SARS-CoV-2 S, highlighting the need for ongoing molecular surveillance to guide development and usage of vaccines and therapeutics.

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