New SARS-CoV-2 variants emerge as part of the virus’ adaptation to the human host. The Health Organizations are monitoring newly emerging variants with suspected impact on disease or vaccination efficacy as Variants Being Monitored (VBM), like Delta and Omicron. Genetic changes (SNVs) compared to the Wuhan variant characterize VBMs with current emphasis on the spike protein and lineage markers. However, monitoring VBMs in such a way might miss SNVs with functional effect on disease. Here we introduce a lineage-agnostic genome-wide approach to identify SNVs associated with disease. We curated a case-control dataset of 10,520 samples and identified 117 SNVs significantly associated with adverse patient outcome. While 40% (47) SNV are already monitored and 36% (43) are in the spike protein, we also identified 70 new SNVs that are associated with disease outcome. 31 of these are disease-worsening and predominantly located in the 3’-5’ exonuclease (NSP14) with structural modelling revealing a concise cluster in the Zn binding domain that has known host-immune modulating function. Furthermore, we generate clade-independent VBM groupings by identifying interacting SNVs (epistasis). We find 37 sets of higher-order epistatic interactions joining 5 genomic regions (nsp3, nsp14, Spike S1, ORF3a, N). Structural modelling of these regions provides insights into potential mechanistic pathways of increased virulence as well as orthogonal methods of validation. Clade-independent monitoring of functionally interacting (epistasis, co-evolution) SNVs detected emerging VBM a week before they were flagged by Health Organizations and in conjunction with structural modelling provides faster, mechanistic insight into emerging strains to guide public health interventions.

Fuente: Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal
Available online 3 June 2022