Stronger bonds connect coronavirus variants to infected cells

Scientists are learning more about what might be making coronavirus variants identified in South Africa and Brazil less vulnerable to vaccines and current antibody therapies.

Researchers already know that these variants carry a worrisome mutation called E484K.

A new study found that after the spike on the virus breaks into receptors on cells, the variant has “more favorable electrostatic interactions,” or electric charges, strengthening bonds that keep it tightly fastened to the infected cell.

In addition, according to a report posted Wednesday on bioRxiv ahead of peer review, the shape of the spike protein is different in the location of the E484K mutation, helping the spike bind more tightly to “receptor” sites on the infected cells.

The authors also confirmed that six antibodies that neutralize other versions the virus are significantly less effective against variants with the E484K mutation.

They discovered this is mainly because the electric charges that bind the antibodies to the spike are not strong enough. These findings, they say, will be “of great significance” for development of effective vaccines and antibodies.

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