Mutational Effect of Some Major COVID-19 Variants on Binding of the S Protein to ACE2

Biomolecules. 2022 Apr 13;12(4):572. doi: 10.3390/biom12040572.


COVID-19 is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which has many variants that accelerated the spread of the virus. In this study, we investigated the quantitative effect of some major mutants of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 binding to the human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). These mutations are directly related to the Variant of Concern (VOC) including Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron. Our calculations show that five major mutations (N501Y, E484K, L452R, T478K and K417N), first reported in Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants, all increase the binding of the S protein to ACE2 (except K417N), consistent with the experimental findings. We also studied an additional eight mutations of the Omicron variant that are located on the interface of the receptor binding domain (RDB) and have not been reported in other VOCs. Our study showed that most of these mutations (except Y505H and G446S) enhance the binding of the S protein to ACE2. The computational predictions helped explain why the Omicron variant quickly became dominant worldwide. Finally, comparison of several different computational methods for binding free energy calculation of these mutants was made. The alanine scanning method used in the current calculation helped to elucidate the residue-specific interactions responsible for the enhanced binding affinities of the mutants. The results show that the ASGB (alanine scanning with generalized Born) method is an efficient and reliable method for these binding free energy calculations due to mutations.

Keywords: ASGB; SARS-CoV-2; SARS-CoV-2 variants; alanine scanning; binding free energy; protein–protein interaction; spike protein.

MeSH terms

  • Alanine / metabolism
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Protein Binding
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus* / genetics


  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
  • Alanine

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants