Computational analysis of the effect of SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron Spike protein mutations on dynamics, ACE2 binding and propensity for immune escape
The recently reported Omicron (B.1.1.529) SARS-CoV-2 variant has a large number of mutations in the Spike (S) protein compared to previous variants. Here we evaluate the potential effect of Omicron S mutations on S protein dynamics and ACE2 binding as contributing factors to infectivity as well as propensity for immune escape. We define a consensus set of mutations from 77 sequences assigned as Omicron in GISAID as of November 25. We create structural models of the Omicron S protein in the open
... and closed states, as part of a complex with ACE2 and for each of 77 complexes of S bound to different antibodies with known structures. We have previously utilized Dynamical Signatures (DS) and the Vibrational Entropy Score (VDS) to evaluate the propensity of S variants to favour the open state. Here, we introduce the Binding Influence Score (BIS) to evaluate the influence of mutations on binding affinity based on the net gain or loss of interactions within the protein-protein interface. BIS shows excellent correlation with experimental data (Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.87) on individual mutations in the ACE2 interface for the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron variants combined. On the one hand, the DS of Omicron highly favours a more rigid open state and a more flexible closed state with the largest VDS of all variants to date, suggesting a large increase in the chances to interact with ACE2. On the other hand, the BIS shows that apart from N501Y, all other mutations in the interface reduce ACE2 binding affinity. VDS and BIS show opposing effects on the overall effectiveness of Omicron mutations to promote binding to ACE2 and therefore initiate infection. To evaluate the propensity for immune escape we calculated the net change of favourable and unfavourable interactions within each S-antibody interface. The net change of interactions shows a positive score (a net increase of favourable interactions and decrease of unfavourable ones) for 41 out of 77 antibodies, a nil score for 15 and a negative score for 21 antibodies. Therefore, in only 28% of S-antibody complexes (21/77) we predict some level of immune escape due to a weakening of the interactions with Omicron S. Considering that most antibody epitopes and the mutations are within the S-ACE2 interface our results suggest that mutations within the RBD of Omicron may give rise to only partial immune escape, which comes at the expense of reduced ACE2 binding affinity. However, this reduced ACE2 affinity appears to have been offset by increasing the occupancy of the open state of the Spike protein.