The SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.529 Omicron virus causes attenuated infection and disease in mice and hamsters

Res Sq [Preprint]. 2021 Dec doi: 10.21203/


Despite the development and deployment of antibody and vaccine countermeasures, rapidly-spreading SARS-CoV-2 variants with mutations at key antigenic sites in the spike protein jeopardize their efficacy. The recent emergence of B.1.1.529, the Omicron variant1,2, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein, has raised concerns for escape from protection by vaccines and therapeutic antibodies. A key test for potential countermeasures against B.1.1.529 is their activity in pre-clinical rodent models of respiratory tract disease. Here, using the collaborative network of the SARS-CoV-2 Assessment of Viral Evolution (SAVE) program of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), we evaluated the ability of multiple B.1.1.529 Omicron isolates to cause infection and disease in immunocompetent and human ACE2 (hACE2) expressing mice and hamsters. Despite modeling and binding data suggesting that B.1.1.529 spike can bind more avidly to murine ACE2, we observed attenuation of infection in 129, C57BL/6, and BALB/c mice as compared with previous SARS-CoV-2 variants, with limited weight loss and lower viral burden in the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Although K18-hACE2 transgenic mice sustained infection in the lungs, these animals did not lose weight. In wild-type and hACE2 transgenic hamsters, lung infection, clinical disease, and pathology with B.1.1.529 also were milder compared to historical isolates or other SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. Overall, experiments from multiple independent laboratories of the SAVE/NIAID network with several different B.1.1.529 isolates demonstrate attenuated lung disease in rodents, which parallels preliminary human clinical data.

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  • Preprint