We identified an emerging severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variant by viral whole-genome sequencing of 2,172 nasal/nasopharyngeal swab samples from 44 counties in California, a state in the western United States. Named B.1.427/B.1.429 to denote its two lineages, the variant emerged in May 2020 and increased from 0% to >50% of sequenced cases from September 2020 to January 2021, showing 18.6%-24% increased transmissibility relative to wild-type circulating strains. The variant carries three mutations in the spike protein, including an L452R substitution. We found 2-fold increased B.1.427/B.1.429 viral shedding in vivo and increased L452R pseudovirus infection of cell cultures and lung organoids, albeit decreased relative to pseudoviruses carrying the N501Y mutation common to variants B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1. Antibody neutralization assays revealed 4.0- to 6.7-fold and 2.0-fold decreases in neutralizing titers from convalescent patients and vaccine recipients, respectively. The increased prevalence of a more transmissible variant in California exhibiting decreased antibody neutralization warrants further investigation.
Keywords: 20C/L452R; B.1.427/B.1.429; COVID-19; L452R mutation; SARS-CoV-2; antibody neutralization; genomic epidemiology; molecular dating; pseudovirus infectivity studies; spike protein; variant of concern; viral whole-genome sequencing.
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