Publication in ACS Nanosci Au

Molecular insights on the rapid evolution of COVID-19 variants


Compared to the previous Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus has spread globally, largely due to its rapid mutation rate, which has led to the emergence of worrisome variants. These variants, identified by changes in the spike protein, particularly in areas critical for binding to human cells, have shown an increased ability to infect and evade antibodies. As more people were vaccinated or exposed to the virus, it faced increased evolutionary pressure, resulting in rapid mutation rates.

David Alsteens' team (WEL Research Institute - UCLouvain) is deepening the understanding of the complex interactions between the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor on human cells, with a particular focus on the newer variants of concern (VoCs). Using sophisticated methods such as atomic force microscopy (AFM) combined with molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, the researchers studied how the spike protein detaches from the ACE2 receptor under mechanical stress. By studying the strength and energy dynamics of this interaction, they are uncovering how these mutations affect the stability of the virus-receptor bond and its susceptibility to neutralizing antibodies. In collaboration with Laurent Gillet's team (ULiège), they also studied the molecular basis of neutralization of selected sera from vaccinated or vaccinated and infected patients. Understanding these mechanisms is critical to developing effective strategies against the evolving threat of SARS-CoV-2 variants and ensuring the continued efficacy of vaccines and treatments; it also underscores the need for continued vigilance and research in monitoring the evolution of this virus and its potential impact on vaccine efficacy.

Ankita Ray et al., Single-molecule investigation of the binding interface stability of SARS-CoV-2 variants with ACE2, ACS Nanosci. Au (2024) 4: 136-145

Illustration : With the permission of David Alsteens

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