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1.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-488010

ABSTRACT

Expanding the arsenal of prophylactic approaches against SARS-CoV-2 is of utmost importance, specifically those strategies that are resistant to antigenic drift in Spike. Here, we conducted a screen with over 16,000 RNAi triggers against the SARS-CoV-2 genome using a massively parallel assay to identify hyper-potent siRNAs. We selected 10 candidates for in vitro validation and found five siRNAs that exhibited hyper-potent activity with IC50<20pM and strong neutralisation in live virus experiments. We further enhanced the activity by combinatorial pairing of the siRNA candidates to develop siRNA cocktails and found that these cocktails are active against multiple types of variants of concern (VOC). We examined over 2,000 possible mutations to the siRNA target sites using saturation mutagenesis and identified broad protection against future variants. Finally, we demonstrated that intranasal administration of the siRNA cocktail effectively attenuates clinical signs and viral measures of disease in the Syrian hamster model. Our results pave the way to development of an additional layer of antiviral prophylaxis that is orthogonal to vaccines and monoclonal antibodies.

2.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-473248

ABSTRACT

The SARS-CoV-2 Omicron BA.1 variant emerged in late 2021 and is characterised by multiple spike mutations across all spike domains. Here we show that Omicron BA.1 has higher affinity for ACE2 compared to Delta, and confers very significant evasion of therapeutic monoclonal and vaccine-elicited polyclonal neutralising antibodies after two doses. mRNA vaccination as a third vaccine dose rescues and broadens neutralisation. Importantly, antiviral drugs remdesevir and molnupiravir retain efficacy against Omicron BA.1. We found that in human nasal epithelial 3D cultures replication was similar for both Omicron and Delta. However, in lower airway organoids, Calu-3 lung cells and gut adenocarcinoma cell lines live Omicron virus demonstrated significantly lower replication in comparison to Delta. We noted that despite presence of mutations predicted to favour spike S1/S2 cleavage, the spike protein is less efficiently cleaved in live Omicron virions compared to Delta virions. We mapped the replication differences between the variants to entry efficiency using spike pseudotyped virus (PV) entry assays. The defect for Omicron PV in specific cell types correlated with higher cellular RNA expression of TMPRSS2, and accordingly knock down of TMPRSS2 impacted Delta entry to a greater extent as compared to Omicron. Furthermore, drug inhibitors targeting specific entry pathways demonstrated that the Omicron spike inefficiently utilises the cellular protease TMPRSS2 that mediates cell entry via plasma membrane fusion. Instead, we demonstrate that Omicron spike has greater dependency on cell entry via the endocytic pathway requiring the activity of endosomal cathepsins to cleave spike. Consistent with suboptimal S1/S2 cleavage and inability to utilise TMPRSS2, syncytium formation by the Omicron spike was dramatically impaired compared to the Delta spike. Overall, Omicron appears to have gained significant evasion from neutralising antibodies whilst maintaining sensitivity to antiviral drugs targeting the polymerase. Omicron has shifted cellular tropism away from TMPRSS2 expressing cells that are enriched in cells found in the lower respiratory and GI tracts, with implications for altered pathogenesis.

3.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21260360

ABSTRACT

Prominent early features of COVID-19 include severe, often clinically silent, hypoxia and a pronounced reduction in B cells, the latter important in defence against SARS-CoV-2. This brought to mind the phenotype of mice with VHL-deficient B cells, in which Hypoxia-Inducible Factors are constitutively active, suggesting hypoxia might drive B cell abnormalities in COVID-19. We demonstrated the breadth of early and persistent defects in B cell subsets in moderate/severe COVID-19, including reduced marginal zone-like, memory and transitional B cells, changes we also observed in B cell VHL-deficient mice. This was corroborated by hypoxia-related transcriptional changes in COVID-19 patients, and by similar B cell abnormalities in mice kept in hypoxic conditions, including reduced marginal zone and germinal center B cells. Thus hypoxia might contribute to B cell pathology in COVID-19, and in other hypoxic states. Through this mechanism it may impact on COVID-19 outcome, and be remediable through early oxygen therapy.

4.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-446826

ABSTRACT

Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants, including the globally successful B.1.1.7 lineage, suggests viral adaptations to host selective pressures resulting in more efficient transmission. Although much effort has focused on Spike adaptation for viral entry and adaptive immune escape, B.1.1.7 mutations outside Spike likely contribute to enhance transmission. Here we used unbiased abundance proteomics, phosphoproteomics, mRNA sequencing and viral replication assays to show that B.1.1.7 isolates more effectively suppress host innate immune responses in airway epithelial cells. We found that B.1.1.7 isolates have dramatically increased subgenomic RNA and protein levels of Orf9b and Orf6, both known innate immune antagonists. Expression of Orf9b alone suppressed the innate immune response through interaction with TOM70, a mitochondrial protein required for RNA sensing adaptor MAVS activation, and Orf9b binding and activity was regulated via phosphorylation. We conclude that B.1.1.7 has evolved beyond the Spike coding region to more effectively antagonise host innate immune responses through upregulation of specific subgenomic RNA synthesis and increased protein expression of key innate immune antagonists. We propose that more effective innate immune antagonism increases the likelihood of successful B.1.1.7 transmission, and may increase in vivo replication and duration of infection.

5.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20248765

ABSTRACT

In a study of 207 SARS-CoV2-infected individuals with a range of severities followed over 12 weeks from symptom onset, we demonstrate that an early robust bystander CD8 T cell immune response, without systemic inflammation, is characteristic of asymptomatic or mild disease. Those presenting to hospital had delayed bystander responses and systemic inflammation already evident at around symptom onset. Such early evidence of inflammation suggests immunopathology may be inevitable in some individuals, or that preventative intervention might be needed before symptom onset. Viral load does not correlate with the development of this pathological response, but does with its subsequent severity. Immune recovery is complex, with profound persistent cellular abnormalities correlating with a change in the nature of the inflammatory response, where signatures characteristic of increased oxidative phosphorylation and reactive-oxygen species-associated inflammation replace those driven by TNF and IL-6. These late immunometabolic inflammatory changes and unresolved immune defects may have clinical implications.

6.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-424229

ABSTRACT

Monitoring the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and reconstructing transmission chains has become a major public health focus for many governments around the world. The modest mutation rate and rapid transmission of SARS-CoV-2 prevents the reconstruction of transmission chains from consensus genome sequences, but within-host genetic diversity could theoretically help identify close contacts. Here we describe the patterns of within-host diversity in 1,181 SARS-CoV-2 samples sequenced to high depth in duplicate. 95% of samples show within-host mutations at detectable allele frequencies. Analyses of the mutational spectra revealed strong strand asymmetries suggestive of damage or RNA editing of the plus strand, rather than replication errors, dominating the accumulation of mutations during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Within and between host diversity show strong purifying selection, particularly against nonsense mutations. Recurrent within-host mutations, many of which coincide with known phylogenetic homoplasies, display a spectrum and patterns of purifying selection more suggestive of mutational hotspots than recombination or convergent evolution. While allele frequencies suggest that most samples result from infection by a single lineage, we identify multiple putative examples of co-infection. Integrating these results into an epidemiological inference framework, we find that while sharing of within-host variants between samples could help the reconstruction of transmission chains, mutational hotspots and rare cases of superinfection can confound these analyses.

7.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20241927

ABSTRACT

SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein is critical for virus infection via engagement of ACE2, and amino acid variation in Spike is increasingly appreciated. Given both vaccines and therapeutics are designed around Wuhan-1 Spike, this raises the theoretical possibility of virus escape, particularly in immunocompromised individuals where prolonged viral replication occurs. Here we report chronic SARS-CoV-2 with reduced sensitivity to neutralising antibodies in an immune suppressed individual treated with convalescent plasma, generating whole genome ultradeep sequences by both short and long read technologies over 23 time points spanning 101 days. Although little change was observed in the overall viral population structure following two courses of remdesivir over the first 57 days, N501Y in Spike was transiently detected at day 55 and V157L in RdRp emerged. However, following convalescent plasma we observed large, dynamic virus population shifts, with the emergence of a dominant viral strain bearing D796H in S2 and{Delta} H69/{Delta}V70 in the S1 N-terminal domain NTD of the Spike protein. As passively transferred serum antibodies diminished, viruses with the escape genotype diminished in frequency, before returning during a final, unsuccessful course of convalescent plasma. In vitro, the Spike escape double mutant bearing{Delta} H69/{Delta}V70 and D796H conferred decreased sensitivity to convalescent plasma, whilst maintaining infectivity similar to wild type. D796H appeared to be the main contributor to decreased susceptibility, but incurred an infectivity defect. The{Delta} H69/{Delta}V70 single mutant had two-fold higher infectivity compared to wild type and appeared to compensate for the reduced infectivity of D796H. Consistent with the observed mutations being outside the RBD, monoclonal antibodies targeting the RBD were not impacted by either or both mutations, but a non RBD binding monoclonal antibody was less potent against{Delta} H69/{Delta}V70 and the double mutant. These data reveal strong selection on SARS-CoV-2 during convalescent plasma therapy associated with emergence of viral variants with reduced susceptibility to neutralising antibodies.

8.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20219642

ABSTRACT

Identifying linked cases of infection is a key part of the public health response to viral infectious disease. Viral genome sequence data is of great value in this task, but requires careful analysis, and may need to be complemented by additional types of data. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for analytical methods which bring together sources of data to inform epidemiological investigations. We here describe A2B-COVID, an approach for the rapid identification of linked cases of coronavirus infection. Our method combines knowledge about infection dynamics, data describing the movements of individuals, and novel approaches to genome sequence data to assess whether or not cases of infection are consistent or inconsistent with linkage via transmission. We apply our method to analyse and compare data collected from two wards at Cambridge University Hospitals, showing qualitatively different patterns of linkage between cases on designated Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 wards. Our method is suitable for the rapid analysis of data from clinical or other potential outbreak settings.

9.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20182279

ABSTRACT

COVID-19 poses a major challenge to care homes, as SARS-CoV-2 is readily transmitted and causes disproportionately severe disease in older people. Here, 1,167 residents from 337 care homes were identified from a dataset of 6,600 COVID-19 cases from the East of England. Older age and being a care home resident were associated with increased mortality. SARS-CoV-2 genomes were available for 700 residents from 292 care homes. By integrating genomic and temporal data, 409 viral clusters within the 292 homes were identified, indicating two different patterns - outbreaks among care home residents and independent introductions with limited onward transmission. Approximately 70% of residents in the genomic analysis were admitted to hospital during the study, providing extensive opportunities for transmission between care homes and hospitals. Limiting viral transmission within care homes should be a key target for infection control to reduce COVID-19 mortality in this population. Impact statementSARS-CoV-2 can spread efficiently within care homes causing COVID-19 outbreaks among residents, who are at increased risk of severe disease, emphasising the importance of stringent infection control in this population.

10.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20133157

ABSTRACT

BackgroundRapid COVID-19 diagnosis in hospital is essential for patient management and identification of infectious patients to limit the potential for nosocomial transmission. The diagnosis of infection is complicated by 30-50% of COVID-19 hospital admissions with nose/throat swabs testing negative for SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid, frequently after the first week of illness when SARS-CoV-2 antibody responses become detectable. We assessed the diagnostic accuracy of combined rapid antibody point of care (POC) and nucleic acid assays for suspected COVID-19 disease in the emergency department. MethodsWe developed (i) an in vitro neutralization assay using a lentivirus expressing a genome encoding luciferase and pseudotyped with spike (S) protein and (ii) an ELISA test to detect IgG antibodies to nucleocapsid (N) and S proteins from SARS-CoV-2. We tested two lateral flow rapid fingerprick tests with bands for IgG and IgM. We then prospectively recruited participants with suspected moderate to severe COVID-19 and tested for SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid in a combined nasal/throat swab using the standard laboratory RT-PCR and a validated rapid POC nucleic acid amplification (NAAT) test. Additionally, serum collected at admission was retrospectively tested by in vitro neutralisation, ELISA and the candidate POC antibody tests. We evaluated the performance of the individual and combined rapid POC diagnostic tests against a composite reference standard of neutralisation and standard laboratory based RT-PCR. Results45 participants had specimens tested for nucleic acid in nose/throat swabs as well as stored sera for antibodies. Using the composite reference standard, prevalence of COVID-19 disease was 53.3% (24/45). Median age was 73.5 (IQR 54.0-86.5) years in those with COVID-19 disease by our reference standard and 63.0 (IQR 41.0-72.0) years in those without disease. The overall detection rate by rapid NAAT was 79.2% (95CI 57.8-92.9%), decreasing from 100% (95% CI 65.3-98.6%) in days 1-4 to 50.0% (95% CI 11.8-88.2) for days 9-28 post symptom onset. Correct identification of COVID-19 with combined rapid POC diagnostic tests was 100% (95CI 85.8-100%) with a false positive rate of 5.3-14.3%, driven by POC LFA antibody tests. ConclusionsCombined POC tests have the potential to transform our management of COVID-19, including inflammatory manifestations later in disease where nucleic acid test results are negative. A rapid combined approach will also aid recruitment into clinical trials and in prescribing therapeutics, particularly where potentially harmful immune modulators (including steroids) are used.

11.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-152835

ABSTRACT

The spike (S) protein of SARS-CoV-2 mediates receptor binding and cell entry and is the dominant target of the immune system. S exhibits substantial conformational flexibility. It transitions from closed to open conformations to expose its receptor binding site, and subsequently from prefusion to postfusion conformations to mediate fusion of viral and cellular membranes. S protein derivatives are components of vaccine candidates and diagnostic assays, as well as tools for research into the biology and immunology of SARS-CoV-2. Here we have designed mutations in S which allow production of thermostable, crosslinked, S protein trimers that are trapped in the closed, pre-fusion, state. We have determined the structures of crosslinked and non-crosslinked proteins, identifying two distinct closed conformations of the S trimer. We demonstrate that the designed, thermostable, closed S trimer can be used in serological assays. This protein has potential applications as a reagent for serology, virology and as an immunogen.

12.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20095687

ABSTRACT

BackgroundThe burden and impact of healthcare-associated COVID-19 infections is unknown. We aimed to examine the utility of rapid sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 combined with detailed epidemiological analysis to investigate healthcare-associated COVID-19 infections and to inform infection control measures. MethodsWe set up rapid viral sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 from PCR-positive diagnostic samples using nanopore sequencing, enabling sample-to-sequence in less than 24 hours. We established a rapid review and reporting system with integration of genomic and epidemiological data to investigate suspected cases of healthcare-associated COVID-19. ResultsBetween 13 March and 24 April 2020 we collected clinical data and samples from 5191 COVID-19 patients in the East of England. We sequenced 1000 samples, producing 747 complete viral genomes. We conducted combined epidemiological and genomic analysis of 299 patients at our hospital and identified 26 genomic clusters involving 114 patients. 66 cases (57.9%) had a strong epidemiological link and 15 cases (13.2%) had a plausible epidemiological link. These results were fed back to clinical, infection control and hospital management teams, resulting in infection control interventions and informing patient safety reporting. ConclusionsWe established real-time genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in a UK hospital and demonstrated the benefit of combined genomic and epidemiological analysis for the investigation of healthcare-associated COVID-19 infections. This approach enabled us to detect cryptic transmission events and identify opportunities to target infection control interventions to reduce further healthcare-associated infections.

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