The SARS-CoV-2 Spike is a virulence determinant and plays a major role on the attenuated phenotype of Omicron virus in a feline model of infection. Academic Article uri icon


  • UNLABELLED: The role of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Omicron BA.1 Spike (S) on disease pathogenesis was investigated. For this, we generated recombinant viruses harboring the S D614G mutation (rWA1-D614G) and the Omicron BA.1 S gene (rWA1-Omi-S) in the backbone of the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 WA1 strain genome. The recombinant viruses were characterized in vitro and in vivo. Viral entry, cell-cell fusion, plaque size, and the replication kinetics of the rWA1-Omi-S virus were markedly impaired when compared to the rWA1-D614G virus, demonstrating a lower fusogenicity and ability to spread cell-to-cell of rWA1-Omi-S. To assess the contribution of the Omicron BA.1 S protein to SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis, the pathogenicity of rWA1-D614G and rWA1-Omi-S viruses was compared in a feline model. While the rWA1-D614G-inoculated cats were lethargic and showed increased body temperatures on days 2 and 3 post-infection (pi), rWA1-Omi-S-inoculated cats remained subclinical and gained weight throughout the 14-day experimental period. Animals inoculated with rWA1-D614G presented higher infectious virus shedding in nasal secretions, when compared to rWA1-Omi-S-inoculated animals. In addition, tissue replication of the rWA1-Omi-S was markedly reduced compared to the rWA1-D614G, as evidenced by lower viral load in tissues on days 3 and 5 pi. Histologic examination of the nasal turbinate and lungs revealed intense inflammatory infiltration in rWA1-D614G-inoculated animals, whereas rWA1-Omi-S-inoculated cats presented only mild to modest inflammation. Together, these results demonstrate that the S protein is a major virulence determinant for SARS-CoV-2 playing a major role for the attenuated phenotype of the Omicron virus. IMPORTANCE: We have demonstrated that the Omicron BA.1.1 variant presents lower pathogenicity when compared to D614G (B.1) lineage in a feline model of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. There are over 50 mutations across the Omicron genome, of which more than two-thirds are present in the Spike (S) protein. To assess the role of the Omicron BA.1 S on virus pathogenesis, recombinant viruses harboring the S D614G mutation (rWA1-D614G) and the Omicron BA.1 Spike gene (rWA1-Omi-S) in the backbone of the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 WA1 were generated. While the Omicron BA.1 S promoted early entry into cells, it led to impaired fusogenic activity and cell-cell spread. Infection studies with the recombinant viruses in a relevant naturally susceptible feline model of SARS-CoV-2 infection here revealed an attenuated phenotype of rWA1-Omi-S, demonstrating that the Omi-S is a major determinant of the attenuated disease phenotype of Omicron strains.

published proceedings

  • J Virol

altmetric score

  • 2.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Martins, M., Nooruzzaman, M., Cunningham, J. L., Ye, C., Caserta, L. C., Jackson, N., ... Diel, D. G.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Martins, Mathias||Nooruzzaman, Mohammed||Cunningham, Jessie Lee||Ye, Chengjin||Caserta, Leonardo Cardia||Jackson, Nathaniel||Martinez-Sobrido, Luis||Fang, Ying||Diel, Diego G

editor list (cited editors)

  • Gallagher, T.

publication date

  • February 2024