Mallavarpu Ambrose J, Priya Veeraraghavan V, Kullappan M, Chellapandiyan P, Krishna Mohan S, Manivel VA
Antibiotics (Basel) 10 (5) - [2021-05-06; online 2021-05-06]
The current dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic have become a serious concern with the emergence of a series of mutant variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Unlike the previous strain, it is reported that the descendants are associated with increased risk of transmission yet causing less impact in terms of hospital admission, the severity of illness, or mortality. Moreover, the vaccine efficacy is also not believed to vary among the population depending on the variants of the virus and ethnicity. It has been determined that the mutations recorded in the spike gene and protein of the newly evolved viruses are specificallyresponsible for this transformation in the behavior of the virus and its disease condition. Hence, this study aimed to compare the immunogenic profiles of the spike protein from the latest variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus concerning the probability of COVID-19 severity. Genome sequences of the latest SARS-CoV-2 variants were obtained from GISAID and NCBI repositories. The translated protein sequences were run against T-cell and B-cell epitope prediction tools. Subsequently, antigenicity, immunogenicity, allergenicity, toxicity, and conservancy of the identified epitopes were ascertained using various prediction servers. Only the non-allergic and non-toxic potential epitopes were matched for population relevance by using the Human Leucocyte Antigen population registry in IEDB. Finally, the selected epitopes were validated by docking and simulation studies. The evaluated immunological parameters would concurrently reveal the severity of COVID-19, determining the infection rate of the pathogen. Our immunoinformatics approach disclosed that spike protein of the five variants was capable of forming potential T and B-cell epitopes with varying immune responses. Although the Wuhan strain showed a high number of epitope/HLA combinations, relatively less antigenicity and higher immunogenicity results in poor neutralizing capacity, which could be associated with increased disease severity. Our data demonstrate that increased viral antigenicity with moderate to high immunogenicity, and several potential epitope/HLA combinations in England strain, the USA, India, and South Africa variants, could possess a high neutralizing ability. Therefore, our findings reinforce that the newly circulating variants of SARS-CoV-2 might be associated with more infectiousness and less severe disease condition despite their greater viremia, as reported in the recent COVID-19 cases, whichconsequently determine their increased epidemiological fitness.