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medrxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.03.24.22272915


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.

medrxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.01.03.21268111


Vaccination-based exposure to spike protein derived from early SARS-CoV-2 sequences is the key public health strategy against COVID-19. Successive waves of SARS-CoV-2 infections have been characterised by the evolution of highly mutated variants that are more transmissible and that partially evade the adaptive immune response. Omicron is the fifth of these Variants of Concern (VOCs) and is characterised by a step change in transmission capability, suggesting significant antigenic and biological change. It is characterised by 45 amino acid substitutions, including 30 changes in the spike protein relative to one of the earliest sequences, Wuhan-Hu-1, of which 15 occur in the receptor-binding domain, an area strongly associated with humoral immune evasion. In this study, we demonstrate both markedly decreased neutralisation in serology assays and real-world vaccine effectiveness in recipients of two doses of vaccine, with efficacy partially recovered by a third mRNA booster dose. We also show that immunity from natural infection (without vaccination) is more protective than two doses of vaccine but inferior to three doses. Finally, we demonstrate fundamental changes in the Omicron entry process in vitro, towards TMPRSS2-independent fusion, representing a major shift in the replication properties of SARS-CoV-2. Overall, these findings underlie rapid global transmission and may alter the clinical severity of disease associated with the Omicron variant.

biorxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.11.21.469423


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.

medrxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.02.23.21252268


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 has prompted renewed concerns about the evolutionarily 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 immunologically important SARS-CoV-2 genes (such as N and S) 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.

biorxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.02.01.429199


Remdesivir (RDV) is used widely for COVID-19 patients despite varying results in recent clinical trials. Here, we show how serially passaging SARS-CoV-2 in vitro in the presence of RDV selected for drug-resistant viral populations. We determined that the E802D mutation in the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase was sufficient to confer decreased RDV sensitivity without affecting viral fitness. Analysis of more than 200,000 sequences of globally circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants show no evidence of widespread transmission of RDV-resistant mutants. Surprisingly, we also observed changes in the Spike (i.e., H69 E484, N501, H655) corresponding to mutations identified in emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants indicating that they can arise in vitro in the absence of immune selection. This study illustrates SARS-CoV-2 genome plasticity and offers new perspectives on surveillance of viral variants.