Key genetic elements, single and in clusters, underlying geographically dependent SARS-CoV-2 genetic adaptation and their impact on binding affinity for drugs and immune control

Romina Salpini, Mohammad Alkhatib, Giosuè Costa, Lorenzo Piermatteo, Francesca Alessandra Ambrosio, Velia Chiara Di Maio, Rossana Scutari, Leonardo Duca, Giulia Berno, Lavinia Fabeni, Stefano Alcaro, Francesca Ceccherini-Silberstein, Anna Artese, Valentina Svicher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: To define key genetic elements, single or in clusters, underlying SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2) evolutionary diversification across continents, and their impact on drug-binding affinity and viral antigenicity. Methods: A total of 12 150 SARS-CoV-2 sequences (publicly available) from 69 countries were analysed. Mutational clusters were assessed by hierarchical clustering. Structure-based virtual screening (SBVS) was used to select the best inhibitors of 3-chymotrypsin-like protease (3CL-Pr) and RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) among the FDA-approved drugs and to evaluate the impact of mutations on binding affinity of these drugs. The impact of mutations on epitope recognition was predicted following Grifoni et al. (Cell Host Microbe 2020; 27: 671-80.) Results: Thirty-five key mutations were identified (prevalence: ≥0.5%), residing in different viral proteins. Sixteen out of 35 formed tight clusters involving multiple SARS-CoV-2 proteins, highlighting intergenic co-evolution. Some clusters (including D614GSpike + P323LRdRp + R203KN + G204RN) occurred in all continents, while others showed a geographically restricted circulation (T1198KPL-Pr + P13LN + A97VRdRp in Asia, L84SORF-8 + S197LN in Europe, Y541CHel + H504CHel + L84SORF-8 in America and Oceania). SBVS identified 20 best RdRp inhibitors and 21 best 3CL-Pr inhibitors belonging to different drug classes. Notably, mutations in RdRp or 3CL-Pr modulate, positively or negatively, the binding affinity of these drugs. Among them, P323LRdRp (prevalence: 61.9%) reduced the binding affinity of specific compounds including remdesivir while it increased the binding affinity of the purine analogues penciclovir and tenofovir, suggesting potential hypersusceptibility. Finally, specific mutations (including Y541CHel + H504CHel) strongly hampered recognition of Class I/II epitopes, while D614GSpike profoundly altered the structural stability of a recently identified B cell epitope target of neutralizing antibodies (amino acids 592-620). Conclusions: Key genetic elements reflect geographically dependent SARS-CoV-2 genetic adaptation, and may play a potential role in modulating drug susceptibility and hampering viral antigenicity. Thus, a close monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 mutational patterns is crucial to ensure the effectiveness of treatments and vaccines worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)396-412
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy
Volume76
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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