BA.1, BA.2 and BA.2.75 variants show comparable replication kinetics, reduced impact on epithelial barrier and elicit cross-neutralizing antibodies

PLoS Pathog. 2023 Feb 24;19(2):e1011196. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1011196. eCollection 2023 Feb.


The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is capable of infecting unvaccinated, vaccinated and previously-infected individuals due to its ability to evade neutralization by antibodies. With multiple sub-lineages of Omicron emerging in the last 12 months, there is inadequate information on the quantitative antibody response generated upon natural infection with Omicron variant and whether these antibodies offer cross-protection against other sub-lineages of Omicron variant. In this study, we characterized the growth kinetics of Kappa, Delta and Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2 in Calu-3 cells. Relatively higher amounts infectious virus titers, cytopathic effect and disruption of epithelial barrier functions was observed with Delta variant whereas infection with Omicron sub-lineages led to a more robust induction of interferon pathway, lower level of virus replication and mild effect on epithelial barrier. The replication kinetics of BA.1, BA.2 and BA.2.75 sub-lineages of the Omicron variant were comparable in cell culture and natural infection in a subset of individuals led to a significant increase in binding and neutralizing antibodies to the Delta variant and all the three sub-lineages of Omicron but the level of neutralizing antibodies were lowest against the BA.2.75 variant. Finally, we show that Cu2+, Zn2+ and Fe2+ salts inhibited in vitro RdRp activity but only Cu2+ and Fe2+ inhibited both the Delta and Omicron variants in cell culture. Thus, our results suggest that high levels of interferons induced upon infection with Omicron variant may counter virus replication and spread. Waning neutralizing antibody titers rendered subjects susceptible to infection by Omicron variants and natural Omicron infection elicits neutralizing antibodies that can cross-react with other sub-lineages of Omicron and other variants of concern.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Interferons / genetics
  • Kinetics
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics


  • Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Interferons
  • Antibodies, Viral

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants

Grant support

This work was supported by grants from Department of Biotechnology (DBT) (IndCEPI Mission (BT/MB/CEPI/2016) and Translational Research Program (BT/PR30159/MED/15/188/2018) to THSTI) and BT/PR40384/COT/142/5/2020 to GRM), Indo-US Science and Technology Forum (CLP-0033 to RP) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (CLP-0036 to RP). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation or the decision to submit the work for publication.