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Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-492832


SARS-CoV-2 remained genetically stable during the first three months of the pandemic, before acquiring a D614G spike mutation that rapidly spread worldwide, and then generating successive waves of viral variants with increasingly high transmissibility. We set out to evaluate possible epistatic interactions between the early occurring D614G mutation and the more recently emerged cleavage site mutations present in spike of the Alpha, Delta, and Omicron variants of concern. The P681H/R mutations at the S1/S2 cleavage site increased spike processing and fusogenicity but limited its incorporation into pseudoviruses. In addition, the higher cleavage rate led to higher shedding of the spike S1 subunit, resulting in a lower infectivity of the P681H/R-carrying pseudoviruses compared to those expressing the Wuhan wild-type spike. The D614G mutation increased spike expression at the cell surface and limited S1 shedding from pseudovirions. As a consequence, the D614G mutation preferentially increased the infectivity of P681H/R-carrying pseudoviruses. This enhancement was more marked in cells where the endosomal route predominated, suggesting that more stable spikes could better withstand the endosomal environment. Taken together, these findings suggest that the D614G mutation stabilized S1/S2 association and enabled the selection of mutations that increased S1/S2 cleavage, leading to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants expressing highly fusogenic spikes. AUTHOR SUMMARYThe successive emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants is fueling the COVID pandemic, thus causing a major and persistent public health issue. The parameters involved in the emergence of variants with higher pathogenic potential remain incompletely understood. The first SARS-CoV-2 variant that spread worldwide in early 2020 carried a D614G mutation in the viral spike, making this protein more stable in its cleaved form at the surface of virions, and resulting in viral particles with higher infectious capacity. The Alpha and the Delta variants that spread in late 2020 and early 2021, respectively, proved increasingly transmissible and pathogenic when compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain. Interestingly, Alpha and Delta both carried mutations in a spike cleavage site that needs to be processed by cellular proteases prior to viral entry. The cleavage site mutations P681H/R made the Alpha and Delta spikes more efficient at viral fusion, by generating a higher fraction of cleaved spikes subunits S1 and S2. We show here that the early D614G mutation and the late P681H/R mutations act synergistically to increase the fusion capacity of SARS-CoV-2 variants. Specifically, viruses with increased spike cleavage due to P681H/R were even more dependent on the stabilizing effect of D614G mutation, which limited the shedding of cleaved S1 subunits from viral particles. These findings suggest that the worldwide spread of the D614G mutation was a prerequisite to the emergence of more pathogenic SARS-CoV-2 variants with highly fusogenic spikes.

Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-448011


Severe COVID-19 is characterized by lung abnormalities, including the presence of syncytial pneumocytes. Syncytia form when SARS-CoV-2 spike protein expressed on the surface of infected cells interacts with the ACE2 receptor on neighbouring cells. The syncytia forming potential of spike variant proteins remain poorly characterized. Here, we first assessed Alpha and Beta spread and fusion in cell cultures. Alpha and Beta replicated similarly to D614G reference strain in Vero, Caco-2, Calu-3 and primary airway cells. However, Alpha and Beta formed larger and more numerous syncytia. Alpha, Beta and D614G fusion was similarly inhibited by interferon induced transmembrane proteins (IFITMs). Individual mutations present in Alpha and Beta spikes differentially modified fusogenicity, binding to ACE2 and recognition by monoclonal antibodies. We further show that Delta spike also triggers faster fusion relative to D614G. Thus, SARS-CoV-2 emerging variants display enhanced syncytia formation. SynopsisThe Spike protein of the novel SARS-CoV-2 variants are comparative more fusogenic than the earlier strains. The mutations in the variant spike protein differential modulate syncytia formation, ACE2 binding, and antibody escape. O_LIThe spike protein of Alpha, Beta and Delta, in the absence of other viral proteins, induce more syncytia than D614G C_LIO_LIThe ACE2 affinity of the variant spike proteins correlates to their fusogenicity C_LIO_LIVariant associated mutations P681H, D1118H, and D215G augment cell-cell fusion, while antibody escape mutation E484K, K417N and {Delta}242-244 hamper it. C_LIO_LIVariant spike-mediated syncytia formation is effectively restricted by IFITMs C_LI

Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-430472


SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants emerged respectively in United Kingdom and South Africa and spread in many countries. Here, we isolated infectious B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 strains and examined their sensitivity to anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies present in sera and nasal swabs, in comparison with a D614G reference virus. We established a novel rapid neutralization assay, based on reporter cells that become GFP+ after overnight infection. B.1.1.7 was neutralized by 79/83 sera from convalescent patients collected up to 9 months post symptoms, almost similar to D614G. There was a mean 6-fold reduction in titers and even loss of activity against B.1.351 in 40% of convalescent sera after 9 months. Early sera from 19 vaccinated individuals were almost as potent against B.1.1.7 but less efficacious against B.1.351, when compared to D614G. Nasal swabs from vaccine recipients were not neutralizing, except in individuals who were diagnosed COVID-19+ before vaccination. Thus, faster-spreading variants acquired a partial resistance to humoral immunity generated by natural infection or vaccination, mostly visible in individuals with low antibody levels.

Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-202028


Severe cases of COVID-19 are associated with extensive lung damage and the presence of infected multinucleated syncytial pneumocytes. The viral and cellular mechanisms regulating the formation of these syncytia are not well understood. Here, we show that SARS-CoV-2 infected cells express the viral Spike protein (S) at their surface and fuse with ACE2-positive neighbouring cells. Expression of S without any other viral proteins triggers syncytia formation. Type-I interferon (IFN)-induced transmembrane proteins (IFITMs), a family of restriction factors that block the entry of many viruses, inhibit S-mediated fusion, with IFITM1 being more active than IFITM2 and IFITM3. On the contrary, the TMPRSS2 serine protease, which is known to enhance infectivity of cell-free virions, processes both S and ACE2 and increases syncytia formation by accelerating the fusion process. TMPRSS2 thwarts the antiviral effect of IFITMs. Our results show that the pathological effects of SARS-CoV-2 are modulated by cellular proteins that either inhibit or facilitate syncytia formation. One Sentence SummarySyncytia produced by SARS-CoV-2 infected cells and regulation of their formation by IFITMs and TMPRSS2.

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20068858


It is of paramount importance to evaluate the prevalence of both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection and their antibody response profile. Here, we performed a pilot study to assess the levels of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in samples taken from 491 pre-epidemic individuals, 51 patients from Hopital Bichat (Paris), 209 pauci-symptomatic individuals in the French Oise region and 200 contemporary Oise blood donors. Two in-house ELISA assays, that recognize the full-length nucleoprotein (N) or trimeric Spike (S) ectodomain were implemented. We also developed two novel assays: the S-Flow assay, which is based on the recognition of S at the cell surface by flow-cytometry, and the LIPS assay that recognizes diverse antigens (including S1 or N C-terminal domain) by immunoprecipitation. Overall, the results obtained with the four assays were similar, with differences in sensitivity that can be attributed to the technique and the antigen in use. High antibody titers were associated with neutralisation activity, assessed using infectious SARS-CoV-2 or lentiviral-S pseudotypes. In hospitalized patients, seroconversion and neutralisation occurred on 5-14 days post symptom onset, confirming previous studies. Seropositivity was detected in 29% of pauci-symptomatic individuals within 15 days post-symptoms and 3 % of blood of healthy donors collected in the area of a cluster of COVID cases. Altogether, our assays allow for a broad evaluation of SARS-CoV2 seroprevalence and antibody profiling in different population subsets.