SARS-CoV-2 spike D614G change enhances replication and transmission

During the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in humans a D614G substitution in the spike (S) protein emerged and became the predominant circulating variant (S-614G) of the COVID-19 pandemic1. However, whether the increasing prevalence of the S-614G variant represents a fitness advantage that improves replication and/or transmission in humans or is merely due to founder effects remains elusive. Here, we generated isogenic SARS-CoV-2 variants and demonstrate that the S-614G variant has (i) enhanced binding to human host cell surface receptor angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), (ii) increased replication in primary human bronchial and nasal airway epithelial cultures as well as in a novel human ACE2 knock-in mouse model, and (iii) markedly increased replication and transmissibility in hamster and ferret models of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Collectively, our data show that while the S-614G substitution results in subtle increases in binding and replication in vitro, it provides a real competitive advantage in vivo, particularly during the transmission bottle neck, providing an explanation for the global predominance of S-614G variant among the SARS-CoV-2 viruses currently circulating.

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