Intrinsic D614G and P681R/H mutations in SARS-CoV-2 VoCs Alpha, Delta, Omicron and viruses with D614G plus key signature mutations in spike protein alters fusogenicity and infectivity.Med Microbiol Immunol. 2023 Feb; 212(1):103-122.MM
The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been rapidly evolving over the time and the genetic variation has led to the generation of Variants of Concerns (VoC), which have shown increased fitness. These VoC viruses contain the key mutations in the spike protein which have allowed better survival and evasion of host defense mechanisms. The D614G mutation in the spike domain is found in the majority of VoC; additionally, the P681R/H mutation at the S1/S2 furin cleavage site junction is also found to be highly conserved in major VoCs; Alpha, Delta, Omicron, and its' current variants. The impact of these genetic alterations of the SARS-CoV-2 VoCs on the host cell entry, transmissibility, and infectivity has not been clearly identified. In our study, Delta and D614G + P681R synthetic double mutant pseudoviruses showed a significant increase in the cell entry, cell-to-cell fusion and infectivity. In contrast, the Omicron and P681H synthetic single mutant pseudoviruses showed TMPRSS2 independent cell entry, less fusion and infectivity as compared to Delta and D614G + P681R double mutants. Addition of exogenous trypsin further enhanced fusion in Delta viruses as compared to Omicron. Furthermore, Delta viruses showed susceptibility to both E64d and Camostat mesylate inhibitors suggesting, that the Delta virus could exploit both endosomal and TMPRSS2 dependent entry pathways as compared to the Omicron virus. Taken together, these results indicate that the D614G and P681R/H mutations in the spike protein are pivotal which might be favoring the VoC replication in different host compartments, and thus allowing a balance of mutation vs selection for better long-term adaptation.