Unexpected high mutations detected in new emerging variants of concern (VOCs) of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), especially in the case of omicron, raises concerns and efforts to understand their evolutionary trajectory. Several hypotheses have been discussed in literature to conceptualize the source of their emergence, including intra-host viral evolution in immunocompromised patients. These patients grant opportunities for the emergence of new variants through a persisting virus winning against host immunity, and selection for viral mutations driven by treatment interventions. VOCs have in common high mutation rate exceeding the average rate of 1-2 mutations per month. Not many studies have investigated the evolutionary rate of SARS-CoV-2 in immunocompromised candidates. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to reveal potential mechanisms underlying the emergence of VOCs by exploring substitution rate of SARS-CoV-2 genomes from surveyed COVID-19 immunocompromised patient’s studies. First, SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences were collected at sequential time series throughout host infection, which were reported in the previous studies. Filtration criteria was applied to reanalyze patients with prolonged infection documented for ≥ 2 months, and comprehensive sequenced samples for ≥ 6 time points. Then, phylogenetic analysis was conducted using Nextclade (https://clades.nextstrain.org/), followed by mutation rate analysis using two substantial similar approaches to calculate the rate in i) substitutions per month and ii) substitutions per site (per year). The mutation tendency of SARS-CoV-2 in immunocompromised hosts was compared to reported VOCs, particularly to omicron. The highest observed mutation rate accounted for approximately 2.2 mutations per month, which is higher than the average rate. High mutation rate was due to prolonged infection and selection pressure by treatment interventions (i.e., convalescent plasma and antibodies). Here, higher rate of intra-host viral evolution in immunocompromised patients is detected, potentially leading to the emergence of VOC. Hence, this research highlights the need for sequencing efforts in high-risk individuals, updating treatment strategies along with further analysis on adaptive mutants pronounced due to intra-host evolution. Together, such findings provide an ultimate synergy for future public health guidelines and infection control measures.
|Date made available
|KAUST Research Repository