DOI: 10.3390/v16030447 ISSN: 1999-4915

Immune System Deficiencies Do Not Alter SARS-CoV-2 Evolutionary Rate but Favour the Emergence of Mutations by Extending Viral Persistence

Laura Manuto, Martina Bado, Marco Cola, Elena Vanzo, Maria Antonello, Giorgia Mazzotti, Monia Pacenti, Giampaolo Cordioli, Lolita Sasset, Anna Maria Cattelan, Stefano Toppo, Enrico Lavezzo
  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases

During the COVID-19 pandemic, immunosuppressed patients showed prolonged SARS-CoV-2 infections, with several studies reporting the accumulation of mutations in the viral genome. The weakened immune system present in these individuals, along with the effect of antiviral therapies, are thought to create a favourable environment for intra-host viral evolution and have been linked to the emergence of new viral variants which strongly challenged containment measures and some therapeutic treatments. To assess whether impaired immunity could lead to the increased instability of viral genomes, longitudinal nasopharyngeal swabs were collected from eight immunocompromised patients and fourteen non-immunocompromised subjects, all undergoing SARS-CoV-2 infection. Intra-host viral evolution was compared between the two groups through deep sequencing, exploiting a probe-based enrichment method to minimise the possibility of artefactual mutations commonly generated in amplicon-based methods, which heavily rely on PCR amplification. Although, as expected, immunocompromised patients experienced significantly longer infections, the acquisition of novel intra-host viral mutations was similar between the two groups. Moreover, a thorough analysis of viral quasispecies showed that the variability of viral populations in the two groups is comparable not only at the consensus level, but also when considering low-frequency mutations. This study suggests that a compromised immune system alone does not affect SARS-CoV-2 within-host genomic variability.

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