S:D614G and S:H655Y are gateway mutations that act epistatically to promote SARS-CoV-2 variant fitness.

bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology

SARS-CoV-2 variants bearing complex combinations of mutations that confer increased transmissibility, COVID-19 severity, and immune escape, were first detected after S:D614G had gone to fixation, and likely originated during persistent infection of immunocompromised hosts. To test the hypothesis that S:D614G facilitated emergence of such variants, S:D614G was reverted to the ancestral sequence in the context of sequential Spike sequences from an immunocompromised individual, and within each of the major SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. In all cases, infectivity of the S:D614G revertants was severely compromised. The infectivity of atypical SARS-CoV-2 lineages that propagated in the absence of S:D614G was found to be dependent upon either S:Q613H or S:H655Y. Notably, Gamma and Omicron variants possess both S:D614G and S:H655Y, each of which contributed to infectivity of these variants. Among sarbecoviruses, S:Q613H, S:D614G, and S:H655Y are only detected in SARS-CoV-2, which is also distinguished by a polybasic S1/S2 cleavage site. Genetic and biochemical experiments here showed that S:Q613H, S:D614G, and S:H655Y each stabilize Spike on virions, and that they are dispensable in the absence of S1/S2 cleavage, consistent with selection of these mutations by the S1/S2 cleavage site. CryoEM revealed that either S:D614G or S:H655Y shift the Spike receptor binding domain (RBD) towards the open conformation required for ACE2-binding and therefore on pathway for infection. Consistent with this, an smFRET reporter for RBD conformation showed that both S:D614G and S:H655Y spontaneously adopt the conformation that ACE2 induces in the parental Spike. Data from these orthogonal experiments demonstrate that S:D614G and S:H655Y are convergent adaptations to the polybasic S1/S2 cleavage site which stabilize S1 on the virion in the open RBD conformation and act epistatically to promote the fitness of variants bearing complex combinations of clinically significant mutations.

Year of Publication
bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology
Date Published
PubMed ID