Several variants of concern (VOCs) have emerged since the WIV04 strain of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was first isolated in January 2020. Due to mutations in the spike (S) protein, these VOCs have evolved to enhance viral infectivity and immune evasion. However, whether mutations of the other viral proteins lead to altered viral propagation and drug resistance remains obscure. The replicon is a noninfectious viral surrogate capable of recapitulating certain steps of the viral life cycle. Although several SARS-CoV-2 replicons have been developed, none of them were derived from emerging VOCs and could only recapitulate viral genome replication and subgenomic RNA (sgRNA) transcription. In this study, SARS-CoV-2 replicons derived from the WIV04 strain and two VOCs (the Beta and Delta variants) were prepared by removing the S gene from their genomes, while other structural genes remained untouched. These replicons not only recapitulate viral genome replication and sgRNA transcription but also support the assembly and release of viral-like particles, as manifested by electron microscopic assays. Thus, the S-deletion replicon could recapitulate virtually all the post-entry steps of the viral life cycle and provides a versatile tool for measuring viral intracellular propagation and screening novel antiviral drugs, including inhibitors of virion assembly and release. Through the quantification of replicon RNA released into the supernatant, we demonstrate that viral intracellular propagation and drug response to remdesivir have not yet substantially changed during the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 from the WIV04 strain to the Beta and Delta VOCs.

Fuente: Virologica Sinica
Available online 1 July 2022