Despite the slow evolutionary rate of SARS-CoV-2 relative to other RNA viruses, its massive and rapid transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic has enabled it to acquire significant genetic diversity since it first entered the human population. This led to the emergence of numerous variants, some of them recently being labeled "variants of concern" (VOC), due to their potential impact on transmission, morbidity/mortality, and the evasion of neutralization by antibodies elicited by infection, vaccination, or therapeutic application. The potential to evade neutralization is the result of diversity of the target epitopes generated by the accumulation of mutations in the spike protein. While three globally recognized VOCs (Alpha or B.1.1.7, Beta or B.1.351, and Gamma or P.1) remain sensitive to neutralization albeit at reduced levels by the sera of convalescent individuals and recipients of several anti-COVID19 vaccines, the effect of spike variability is much more evident on the neutralization capacity of monoclonal antibodies. The newly recognized VOC Delta or lineage B.1.617.2, as well as locally accepted VOCs (Epsilon or B.1.427/29-US and B1.1.7 with the E484K-UK) are indicating the necessity of close monitoring of new variants on a global level. The VOCs characteristics, their mutational patterns, and the role mutations play in immune evasion are summarized in this review.
Keywords: B.1.1.7; B.1.351; B.1.617; COVID-19; P.1; SARS-CoV-2; immune escape; mutations; neutralization; variant of concern.