Persistent severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections have been reported in immune-compromised individuals and people undergoing immune-modulatory treatments. Although intrahost evolution has been documented, direct evidence of subsequent transmission and continued stepwise adaptation is lacking. Here we describe sequential persistent SARS-CoV-2 infections in three individuals that led to the emergence, forward transmission, and continued evolution of a new Omicron sublineage, BA.1.23, over an eight-month period. The initially transmitted BA.1.23 variant encoded seven additional amino acid substitutions within the spike protein (E96D, R346T, L455W, K458M, A484V, H681R, A688V), and displayed substantial resistance to neutralization by sera from boosted and/or Omicron BA.1-infected study participants. Subsequent continued BA.1.23 replication resulted in additional substitutions in the spike protein (S254F, N448S, F456L, M458K, F981L, S982L) as well as in five other virus proteins. Our findings demonstrate not only that the Omicron BA.1 lineage can diverge further from its already exceptionally mutated genome but also that patients with persistent infections can transmit these viral variants. Thus, there is, an urgent need to implement strategies to prevent prolonged SARS-CoV-2 replication and to limit the spread of newly emerging, neutralization-resistant variants in vulnerable patients.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)