Imprinted SARS-CoV-2 humoral immunity induces convergent Omicron RBD evolution

Nature. 2023 Feb;614(7948):521-529. doi: 10.1038/s41586-022-05644-7. Epub 2022 Dec 19.


Continuous evolution of Omicron has led to a rapid and simultaneous emergence of numerous variants that display growth advantages over BA.5 (ref. 1). Despite their divergent evolutionary courses, mutations on their receptor-binding domain (RBD) converge on several hotspots. The driving force and destination of such sudden convergent evolution and its effect on humoral immunity remain unclear. Here we demonstrate that these convergent mutations can cause evasion of neutralizing antibody drugs and convalescent plasma, including those from BA.5 breakthrough infection, while maintaining sufficient ACE2-binding capability. BQ.1.1.10 (BQ.1.1 + Y144del), BA.4.6.3, XBB and CH.1.1 are the most antibody-evasive strains tested. To delineate the origin of the convergent evolution, we determined the escape mutation profiles and neutralization activity of monoclonal antibodies isolated from individuals who had BA.2 and BA.5 breakthrough infections2,3. Owing to humoral immune imprinting, BA.2 and especially BA.5 breakthrough infection reduced the diversity of the neutralizing antibody binding sites and increased proportions of non-neutralizing antibody clones, which, in turn, focused humoral immune pressure and promoted convergent evolution in the RBD. Moreover, we show that the convergent RBD mutations could be accurately inferred by deep mutational scanning profiles4,5, and the evolution trends of BA.2.75 and BA.5 subvariants could be well foreseen through constructed convergent pseudovirus mutants. These results suggest that current herd immunity and BA.5 vaccine boosters may not efficiently prevent the infection of Omicron convergent variants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / immunology
  • Antibodies, Viral* / immunology
  • Antigenic Drift and Shift* / immunology
  • Breakthrough Infections / immunology
  • Breakthrough Infections / virology
  • COVID-19 Serotherapy
  • COVID-19* / immunology
  • COVID-19* / virology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Humoral*
  • Mutation
  • Protein Domains / genetics
  • Protein Domains / immunology
  • SARS-CoV-2* / chemistry
  • SARS-CoV-2* / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2* / immunology
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus* / chemistry
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus* / genetics
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus* / immunology


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • ACE2 protein, human

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants
  • COVID-19 vaccine booster shot