Molecular Evolution of Human Coronavirus 229E in Hong Kong and a Fatal COVID-19 Case Involving Coinfection with a Novel Human Coronavirus 229E Genogroup.mSphere. 2021 02 10; 6(1)M
Compared to other human coronaviruses, the genetic diversity and evolution of human coronavirus 229E (HCoV-229E) are relatively understudied. We report a fatal case of COVID-19 pneumonia coinfected with HCoV-229E in Hong Kong. Genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 and HCoV-229E from a nasopharyngeal sample of the patient showed that the SARS-CoV-2 strain HK13 was most closely related to SARS-CoV-2 type strain Wuhan-Hu-1 (99.99% nucleotide identity), compatible with his recent history of travel to Wuhan. The HCoV-229E strain HK20-42 was most closely related to HCoV-229E strain SC0865 from the United States (99.86% nucleotide identity). To investigate if it may represent a newly emerged HCoV-229E genotype in Hong Kong, we retrieved 41 archived respiratory samples that tested positive for HCoV-229E from 2004 to 2019. Pneumonia and exacerbations of chronic airway diseases were common among infected patients. Complete RdRp, S, and N gene sequencing of the 41 HCoV-229E strains revealed that our contemporary HCoV-229E strains have undergone significant genetic drift with clustering of strains in chronological order. Two novel genogroups were identified, in addition to previously described genogroups 1 to 4, with recent circulating strains including strain HK20-42 belonging to novel genogroup 6. Positive selection was detected in the spike protein and receptor-binding domain, which may be important for viral evolution at the receptor-binding interphase. Molecular dating analysis showed that HCoV-229E shared the most recent common ancestor with bat and camel/alpaca 229E-related viruses at ∼1884, while camel/alpaca viruses had a relatively recent common ancestor at ∼1999. Further studies are required to ascertain the evolutionary origin and path of HCoV-229E.IMPORTANCE Since its first appearance in the 1960s, the genetic diversity and evolution of human coronavirus 229E (HCoV-229E) have been relatively understudied. In this study, we report a fatal case of COVID-19 coinfected with HCoV-229E in Hong Kong. Genome sequencing revealed that our SARS-CoV-2 strain is highly identical to the SARS-CoV-2 strain from Wuhan, compatible with the patient's recent travel history, whereas our HCoV-229E strain in this study is highly identical to a recent strain in the United States. We also retrieved 41 archived HCoV-229E strains from 2004 to 2019 in Hong Kong for sequence analysis. Pneumonia and exacerbations of chronic airway diseases were common diagnoses among the 41 patients. The results showed that HCoV-229E was evolving in chronological order. Two novel genogroups were identified in addition to the four preexisting HCoV-229E genogroups, with recent circulating strains belonging to novel genogroup 6. Molecular clock analysis dated bat-to-human and bat-to-camelid transmission to as early as 1884.