The Omicron Variant BA.1.1 Presents a Lower Pathogenicity than B.1 D614G and Delta Variants in a Feline Model of SARS-CoV-2 Infection. Academic Article uri icon


  • Omicron (B.1.1.529) is the most recent SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern, which emerged in late 2021 and rapidly achieved global predominance by early 2022. In this study, we compared the infection dynamics, tissue tropism, and pathogenesis and pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 D614G (B.1), Delta (B.1.617.2), and Omicron BA.1.1 (B.1.1.529) variants in a highly susceptible feline model of infection. Although D614G- and Delta-inoculated cats became lethargic and showed increased body temperatures between days 1 and 3 postinfection (pi), Omicron-inoculated cats remained subclinical and, similar to control animals, gained weight throughout the 14-day experimental period. Intranasal inoculation of cats with D614G- and the Delta variants resulted in high infectious virus shedding in nasal secretions (up to 6.3 log10 TCID50.Ml-1), whereas strikingly lower level of viruses shedding (<3.1 log10 TCID50.Ml-1) was observed in Omicron-inoculated animals. In addition, tissue distribution of the Omicron variant was markedly reduced in comparison to the D614G and Delta variants, as evidenced by lower in situ viral RNA detection, in situ viral immunofluorescence staining, and viral loads in tissues on days 3, 5, and 14pi. Nasal turbinate, trachea, and lung were the main-but not the only-sites of replication for all three viral variants. However, only scarce virus staining and lower viral titers suggest lower levels of viral replication in tissues from Omicron-infected animals. Notably, while D614G- and Delta-inoculated cats presented pneumonia, histologic examination of the lungs from Omicron-infected cats revealed mild to modest inflammation. Together, these results demonstrate that the Omicron variant BA.1.1 is less pathogenic than D614G and Delta variants in a highly susceptible feline model. IMPORTANCE The SARS-CoV-2 Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of concern emerged in South Africa late in 2021 and rapidly spread across the world causing a significant increase in the number of infections. Importantly, this variant was also associated with an increased risk of reinfections. However, the number of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 did not follow the same trends. These early observations suggested effective protection conferred by immunizations and/or overall lower virulence of the highly mutated variant virus. In this study we present novel evidence demonstrating that the Omicron BA.1.1 variant of concern presents a lower pathogenicity when compared to D614G- or Delta variants in cats. Clinical, virological, and pathological evaluations revealed lower disease severity, viral replication, and lung pathology in Omicron-infected cats when compared with D614G and Delta variant inoculated animals, confirming that Omicron BA.1.1 is less pathogenic in a highly susceptible feline model of infection.

published proceedings

  • J Virol

altmetric score

  • 5.35

author list (cited authors)

  • Martins, M., do Nascimento, G. M., Nooruzzaman, M., Yuan, F., Chen, C., Caserta, L. C., ... Diel, D. G.

citation count

  • 17

complete list of authors

  • Martins, Mathias||do Nascimento, Gabriela M||Nooruzzaman, Mohammed||Yuan, Fangfeng||Chen, Chi||Caserta, Leonardo C||Miller, Andrew D||Whittaker, Gary R||Fang, Ying||Diel, Diego G

editor list (cited editors)

  • Gallagher, T.

publication date

  • September 2022