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EuropePMC; 2022.
Preprint in English | EuropePMC | ID: ppcovidwho-335222


Variant of concern (VOC) Omicron-BA1 has achieved global predominance in early 2022. Therefore, surveillance and comprehensive characterization of Omicron-BA.1 in advanced primary cell culture systems and multiple animal models is urgently needed. Here, we characterized Omicron-BA.1 and recombinant Omicron-BA.1 spike gene mutants in comparison with VOC Delta in well-differentiated primary human nasal and bronchial epithelial cells in vitro, followed by in vivo fitness characterization in naïve hamsters, ferrets and hACE2-expressing mice, and in immunized hACE2-mice. We demonstrate a spike-mediated enhancement of early replication of Omicron-BA.1 in nasal epithelial cultures, but limited replication in bronchial epithelial cultures. In Syrian hamsters, Delta showed dominance over Omicron-BA.1 and in ferrets, Omicron-BA.1 infection was abortive. In mice expressing the authentic hACE2-receptor, Delta and a Delta spike clone also showed dominance over Omicron-BA.1 and an Omicron-BA.1 spike clone, respectively. Interestingly, in naïve K18-hACE2 mice, we observed Delta spike-mediated increased replication and pathogenicity and Omicron-BA.1 spike-mediated reduced replication and pathogenicity, suggesting that the spike gene is a major determinant of both Delta and Omicron-BA.1 replication and pathogenicity. Finally, the Omicron-BA.1 spike clone was less well controlled by mRNA-vaccination in K18-hACE2-mice and became more competitive compared to the progenitor and Delta spike clones, suggesting that spike gene-mediated immune evasion is another important factor that led to Omicron-BA.1 dominance.

Nature ; 602(7896): 307-313, 2022 02.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1585832


Emerging variants of concern (VOCs) are driving the COVID-19 pandemic1,2. Experimental assessments of replication and transmission of major VOCs and progenitors are needed to understand the mechanisms of replication and transmission of VOCs3. Here we show that the spike protein (S) from Alpha (also known as B.1.1.7) and Beta (B.1.351) VOCs had a greater affinity towards the human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor than that of the progenitor variant S(D614G) in vitro. Progenitor variant virus expressing S(D614G) (wt-S614G) and the Alpha variant showed similar replication kinetics in human nasal airway epithelial cultures, whereas the Beta variant was outcompeted by both. In vivo, competition experiments showed a clear fitness advantage of Alpha over wt-S614G in ferrets and two mouse models-the substitutions in S were major drivers of the fitness advantage. In hamsters, which support high viral replication levels, Alpha and wt-S614G showed similar fitness. By contrast, Beta was outcompeted by Alpha and wt-S614G in hamsters and in mice expressing human ACE2. Our study highlights the importance of using multiple models to characterize fitness of VOCs and demonstrates that Alpha is adapted for replication in the upper respiratory tract and shows enhanced transmission in vivo in restrictive models, whereas Beta does not overcome Alpha or wt-S614G in naive animals.

COVID-19/transmission , COVID-19/virology , Mutation , SARS-CoV-2/classification , SARS-CoV-2/physiology , Virus Replication , Amino Acid Substitution , Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2/genetics , Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2/metabolism , Animals , Animals, Laboratory/virology , COVID-19/veterinary , Cricetinae , Disease Models, Animal , Epithelial Cells/virology , Female , Ferrets/virology , Humans , Male , Mesocricetus/virology , Mice , Mice, Transgenic , SARS-CoV-2/genetics , SARS-CoV-2/growth & development , Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus/genetics , Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus/metabolism , Virulence/genetics