Potential APOBEC-mediated RNA editing of the genomes of SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses and its impact on their longer term evolution

Virology. 2021 Apr:556:62-72. doi: 10.1016/j.virol.2020.12.018. Epub 2021 Jan 7.


Members of the APOBEC family of cytidine deaminases show antiviral activities in mammalian cells through lethal editing in the genomes of small DNA viruses, herpesviruses and retroviruses, and potentially those of RNA viruses such as coronaviruses. Consistent with the latter, APOBEC-like directional C→U transitions of genomic plus-strand RNA are greatly overrepresented in SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences of variants emerging during the COVID-19 pandemic. A C→U mutational process may leave evolutionary imprints on coronavirus genomes, including extensive homoplasy from editing and reversion at targeted sites and the occurrence of driven amino acid sequence changes in viral proteins. If sustained over longer periods, this process may account for the previously reported marked global depletion of C and excess of U bases in human seasonal coronavirus genomes. This review synthesizes the current knowledge on APOBEC evolution and function and the evidence of their role in APOBEC-mediated genome editing of SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses.

Keywords: APOBEC; Coronavirus; Innate immunity; SARS-CoV-2; Virus evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • APOBEC Deaminases / chemistry
  • APOBEC Deaminases / genetics
  • APOBEC Deaminases / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Coronavirus / genetics*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Viral / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • RNA Editing*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics


  • APOBEC Deaminases