A structural dynamic explanation for observed escape of SARS-CoV-2 BA.2 variant mutation S371L/F

bioRxiv. 2022 Mar 2;2022.02.25.481957. doi: 10.1101/2022.02.25.481957. Preprint


The SARS-CoV-2 Omicron sub-variants BA.1 and BA.2 have become the dominant variants worldwide due to enhanced transmissibility and immune evasion. In response to the rise of BA.1 and BA.2, two recent studies by Liu et al. and Iketani et al. provide a detailed analysis of loss of therapeutic antibody potency through evaluation of escape by pseudotyped viruses harboring BA.1 and BA.2 receptor binding domain (RBD) point mutations. Surprisingly, Liu et al. and Iketani et al. observed a profoundly broad escape effect for the individual mutations S371L and S371F. This result cannot be explained by known escape mechanisms of the SARS-CoV-2 RBD, and conflicts with existing computational and experimental escape measurements for S371 mutations performed on monomeric RBD. Through an examination of these conflicting datasets and a structural analysis of the antibodies assayed by Liu et al. and Iketani et al., we propose a mechanism to explain S371L/F escape according to a perturbation of spike trimer conformational dynamics that has not yet been described for any SARS-CoV-2 escape mutation. The proposed mechanism is relevant to Omicron and future variant surveillance as well as therapeutic antibody design.

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