Signatures in SARS-CoV-2 spike protein conferring escape to neutralizing antibodies

Marta Alenquer, Filipe Ferreira, Diana Lousa, Mariana Valério, Mónica Medina-Lopes, Marie Louise Bergman, Juliana Gonçalves, Jocelyne Demengeot, Ricardo B. Leite, Jingtao Lilue, Zemin Ning, Carlos Penha-Gonçalves, Helena Soares, Cláudio M. Soares, Maria João Amorim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding SARS-CoV-2 evolution and host immunity is critical to control COVID-19 pandemics. At the core is an arms-race between SARS-CoV-2 antibody and angiotensinconverting enzyme 2 (ACE2) recognition, a function of the viral protein spike. Mutations in spike impacting antibody and/or ACE2 binding are appearing worldwide, imposing the need to monitor SARS-CoV2 evolution and dynamics in the population. Determining signatures in SARS-CoV-2 that render the virus resistant to neutralizing antibodies is critical. We engineered 25 spike-pseudotyped lentiviruses containing individual and combined mutations in the spike protein, including all defining mutations in the variants of concern, to identify the effect of single and synergic amino acid substitutions in promoting immune escape. We confirmed that E484K evades antibody neutralization elicited by infection or vaccination, a capacity augmented when complemented by K417N and N501Y mutations. In silico analysis provided an explanation for E484K immune evasion. E484 frequently engages in interactions with antibodies but not with ACE2. Importantly, we identified a novel amino acid of concern, S494, which shares a similar pattern. Using the already circulating mutation S494P, we found that it reduces antibody neutralization of convalescent and post-immunization sera, particularly when combined with E484K and with mutations able to increase binding to ACE2, such as N501Y. Our analysis of synergic mutations provides a signature for hotspots for immune evasion and for targets of therapies, vaccines and diagnostics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1009772
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


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