SARS-CoV-2 Point Mutation and Deletion Spectra and Their Association with Different Disease Outcomes

 Microbiol Spectr. 2022 Mar 29;e0022122.

Brenda Martínez-González, María Eugenia Soria, Lucía Vázquez-Sirvent, Cristina Ferrer-Orta, Rebeca Lobo-Vega, Pablo Mínguez, Lorena de la Fuente, Carlos Llorens, Beatriz Soriano, Ricardo Ramos, Marta Cortón, Rosario López-Rodríguez, Carlos García-Crespo, Isabel Gallego, Ana Isabel de Ávila, Jordi Gómez, Luis Enjuanes, Llanos Salar-Vidal , Jaime Esteban, Ricardo Fernandez-Roblas, Ignacio Gadea, Carmen Ayuso, Javier Ruíz-Hornillos, Nuria Verdaguer, Esteban Domingo, Celia Perales


Mutant spectra of RNA viruses are important to understand viral pathogenesis and response to selective pressures. There is a need to characterize the complexity of mutant spectra in coronaviruses sampled from infected patients. In particular, the possible relationship between SARS-CoV-2 mutant spectrum complexity and disease associations has not been established. In the present study, we report an ultradeep sequencing (UDS) analysis of the mutant spectrum of amplicons from the nsp12 (polymerase)- and spike (S)-coding regions of 30 nasopharyngeal isolates (diagnostic samples) of SARS-CoV-2 of the first COVID-19 pandemic wave (Madrid, Spain, April 2020) classified according to the severity of ensuing COVID-19. Low-frequency mutations and deletions, counted relative to the consensus sequence of the corresponding isolate, were overwhelmingly abundant. We show that the average number of different point mutations, mutations per haplotype, and several diversity indices was significantly higher in SARS-CoV-2 isolated from patients who developed mild disease than in those associated with moderate or severe disease (exitus). No such bias was observed with RNA deletions. Location of amino acid substitutions in the three-dimensional structures of nsp12 (polymerase) and S suggest significant structural or functional effects. Thus, patients who develop mild symptoms may be a richer source of genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 than patients with moderate or severe COVID-19. IMPORTANCE The study shows that mutant spectra of SARS-CoV-2 from diagnostic samples differ in point mutation abundance and complexity and that significantly larger values were observed in virus from patients who developed mild COVID-19 symptoms. Mutant spectrum complexity is not a uniform trait among isolates. The nature and location of low-frequency amino acid substitutions present in mutant spectra anticipate great potential for phenotypic diversification of SARS-CoV-2.

DOI: 10.1128/spectrum.00221-22

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