De novo emergence of SARS-CoV-2 spike mutations in immunosuppressed patients

Lacy M. Simons, Egon A. Ozer, Stephanie Gambut, Taylor J. Dean, Li Zhang, Pavan Bhimalli, Jeffrey R. Schneider, João I. Mamede, Michael G. Ison, Reem Karmali, Leo I. Gordon, Ramon Lorenzo-Redondo, Judd F. Hultquist*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: The continuing evolution of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants with decreased susceptibility to neutralizing antibodies is of clinical importance. Several spike mutations associated with immune escape have evolved independently in association with different variants of concern (VOCs). How and when these mutations arise is still unclear. We hypothesized that such mutations might arise in the context of persistent viral replication in immunosuppressed hosts. Methods: Nasopharyngeal specimens were collected longitudinally from two immunosuppressed patients with persistent SARS-CoV-2 infection. Plasma was collected from these same patients late in disease course. SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequencing was performed to assess the emergence and frequency of mutations over time. Select Spike mutations were assessed for their impact on viral entry and antibody neutralization in vitro. Results: Our sequencing results revealed the intrahost emergence of spike mutations that are associated with circulating VOCs in both immunosuppressed patients (del241-243 and E484Q in one patient, and E484K in the other). These mutations decreased antibody-mediated neutralization of pseudotyped virus particles in cell culture, but also decreased efficiency of spike-mediated cell entry. Conclusions: These observations demonstrate the de novo emergence of SARS-CoV-2 spike mutations with enhanced immune evasion in immunosuppressed patients with persistent infection. These data suggest one potential mechanism for the evolution of VOCs and emphasize the importance of continued efforts to develop antiviral drugs for suppression of viral replication in hospitalized settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13914
JournalTransplant Infectious Disease
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • immunosuppressed
  • persistent infection
  • spike mutation
  • variants of concern
  • viral evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Transplantation
  • Infectious Diseases


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