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Deep Structural Analysis of Myriads of Omicron Sub-Variants Revealed Hotspot for Vaccine Escape Immunity

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Article number668
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>15/03/2023
Issue number3
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The emergence of the Omicron variant has reinforced the importance of continued SARS-CoV-2 evolution and its possible impact on vaccine effectiveness. Specifically, mutations in the receptor-binding domain (RBD) are critical to comprehend the flexibility and dynamicity of the viral interaction with the human agniotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) receptor. To this end, we have applied a string of deep structural and genetic analysis tools to map the substitution patterns in the S protein of major Omicron sub-variants (n = 51) with a primary focus on the RBD mutations. This head-to-head comparison of Omicron sub-variants revealed multiple simultaneous mutations that are attributed to antibody escape, and increased affinity and binding to hACE2. Our deep mapping of the substitution matrix indicated a high level of diversity at the N-terminal and RBD domains compared with other regions of the S protein, highlighting the importance of these two domains in a matched vaccination approach. Structural mapping identified highly variable mutations in the up confirmation of the S protein and at sites that critically define the function of the S protein in the virus pathobiology. These substitutional trends offer support in tracking mutations along the evolutionary trajectories of SAR-CoV-2. Collectively, the findings highlight critical areas of mutations across the major Omicron sub-variants and propose several hotspots in the S proteins of SARS-CoV-2 sub-variants to train the future design and development of COVID-19 vaccines.