Trinucleotide Substitutions at Two Locations in the SARS-CoV-2 Nucleocapsid (N) Gene

Tohoku J Exp Med. 2023 May 9;260(1):21-27. doi: 10.1620/tjem.2023.J010. Epub 2023 Feb 16.


The genomes of sarbecoviruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), incorporate mutations with short sequence exchanges based on unknown processes. Currently, the presence of such short-sequence exchanges among the genomes of different SARS-CoV-2 lineages remains uncertain. In the present study, multiple SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences from different clades or sublineages were collected from an international mass sequence database and compared to identify the presence of short sequence exchanges. Initial screening with multiple sequence alignments identified two locations with trinucleotide substitutions, both in the nucleocapsid (N) gene. The first exchange from 5'-GAT-3' to 5'-CTA-3' at nucleotide positions 28,280-28,282 resulted in a change in the amino acid from aspartic acid (D) to leucine (L), which was predominant in clade GRY (Alpha). The second exchange from 5'-GGG-3' to 5'-AAC-3' at nucleotide positions 28,881-28,883 resulted in an amino acid change from arginine and glycine (RG) to lysine and arginine (KR), which was predominant in GR (Gamma), GRY (Alpha), and GRA (Omicron). Both trinucleotide substitutions occurred before June 2020. The sequence identity rate between these lineages suggests that coincidental succession of single-nucleotide substitutions is unlikely. Basic local alignment search tool sequence search revealed the absence of intermediating mutations based on single-base substitutions or overlapping indels before the emergence of these trinucleotide substitutions. These findings suggest that trinucleotide substitutions could have developed via an en bloc exchange. In summary, trinucleotide substitutions at two locations in the SARS-CoV-2 N gene were identified. This mutation may provide insights into the evolution of SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords: GISAID; nucleocapsid protein; severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2; trinucleotide exchange.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • COVID-19* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Nucleocapsid / genetics
  • Nucleotides
  • Phylogeny
  • SARS-CoV-2* / genetics


  • Nucleotides
  • Amino Acids