Attenuated fusogenicity and pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant

Nature, 2022


The emergence of a new severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variant, Omicron, is an urgent global health concern (ref.1). Our statistical modelling suggests that Omicron has spread more rapidly than the Delta variant in several countries including South Africa. Cell culture experiments show that Omicron is less fusogenic than Delta and an ancestral SARS-CoV-2 strain. Although the spike (S) protein of Delta is efficiently cleaved into two subunits, which facilitates cell–cell fusion2,3, Omicron S is less efficiently cleaved compared to Delta S and ancestral SARS-CoV-2 S. Furthermore, in a hamster model, Omicron shows decreased lung infectivity and is less pathogenic compared to Delta and ancestral SARS-CoV-2.

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