Attenuated fusogenicity and pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant

Nature. 2022 Mar;603(7902):700-705. doi: 10.1038/s41586-022-04462-1. Epub 2022 Feb 1.


The emergence of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is an urgent global health concern1. In this study, our statistical modelling suggests that Omicron has spread more rapidly than the Delta variant in several countries including South Africa. Cell culture experiments showed Omicron to be less fusogenic than Delta and than an ancestral strain of SARS-CoV-2. Although the spike (S) protein of Delta is efficiently cleaved into two subunits, which facilitates cell-cell fusion2,3, the Omicron S protein was less efficiently cleaved compared to the S proteins of Delta and ancestral SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, in a hamster model, Omicron showed decreased lung infectivity and was less pathogenic compared to Delta and ancestral SARS-CoV-2. Our multiscale investigations reveal the virological characteristics of Omicron, including rapid growth in the human population, lower fusogenicity and attenuated pathogenicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / pathology*
  • COVID-19 / virology*
  • Cell Line
  • Cricetinae
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung / virology
  • Male
  • Membrane Fusion*
  • Mesocricetus
  • Mutation
  • SARS-CoV-2 / classification
  • SARS-CoV-2 / growth & development
  • SARS-CoV-2 / metabolism*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity*
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / genetics
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / metabolism
  • Virulence
  • Virus Internalization*
  • Virus Replication


  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants