• Comparison of sars-cov-2 receptors expression in primary endothelial cells and retinoic acid-differentiated human neuronal cells

      Benedetti, Francesca; Silvestri, Giovannino; Mavian, Carla; Weichseldorfer, Matthew; Munawwar, Arshi; Cash, Melanie N.; Dulcey, Melissa; Vittor, Amy Y.; Ciccozzi, Massimo; Salemi, Marco; et al. (MDPI AG, 2021-10-30)
      SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) is primarily responsible for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and it is characterized by respiratory illness with fever and dyspnea. Severe vascular problems and several other manifestations, including neurological ones, have also been frequently reported, particularly in the great majority of “long hauler” patients. SARS-CoV-2 infects and replicates in lung epithelial cells, while dysfunction of endothelial and neuronal brain cells has been observed in the absence of productive infection. It has been shown that the Spike protein can interact with specific cellular receptors, supporting both viral entry and cellular dysfunction. It is thus clear that understanding how and when these receptors are regulated, as well as how much they are expressed would help in unveiling the multifaceted aspects of this disease. Here, we show that SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells express three important cellular surface molecules that interact with the Spike protein, namely ACE2, TMPRSS2, and NRP1. Their levels increase when cells are treated with retinoic acid (RA), a commonly used agent known to promote differentiation. This increase matched the higher levels of receptors observed on HUVEC (primary human umbilical vein endothelial cells). We also show by confocal imaging that replication-defective pseudoviruses carrying the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein can infect differentiated and undifferentiated SH-SY5Y, and HUVEC cells, although with different efficiencies. Neuronal cells and endothelial cells are potential targets for SARS-CoV-2 infection and the interaction of the Spike viral protein with these cells may cause their dysregulation. Characterizing RNA and protein expression tempo, mode, and levels of different SARS-CoV-2 receptors on both cell subpopulations may have clinical relevance for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19-infected subjects, including long hauler patients with neurological manifestations. © 2021 by the authors.
    • Detection of a SARS-CoV-2 P.1.1 variant lacking N501Y in a vaccinated Health Care worker in Italy

      Angeletti, Silvia; Giovanetti, Marta; Fogolari, Marta; De Florio, Lucia; Francesconi, Maria; Veralli, Roberta; Antonelli, Francesca; Donati, Daniele; Miccoli, Ginevra Azzurra; Fonseca, Vagner; et al. (Elsevier Ltd., 2021-07-06)
      Vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 are very effective, but some mutations could reduce protection. Here we report a case of SARS-CoV-2 infection with a P.1.1 variant lacking the Y501 mutation in a vaccinated individual in Italy. Carefully monitoring breakthrough infections is important for assessing viral spreading of potential vaccine-resistant variants.
    • Emerging of a SARS-CoV-2 viral strain with a deletion in nsp1

      Benedetti, Francesca; Snyder, Greg A; Giovanetti, Marta; Angeletti, Silvia; Gallo, Robert C; Ciccozzi, Massimo; Zella, Davide (Springer Nature, 2020-08-31)
      BACKGROUND: The new Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), which was first detected in Wuhan (China) in December of 2019 is responsible for the current global pandemic. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that it is similar to other betacoronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV and Middle-Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, MERS-CoV. Its genome is ∼ 30 kb in length and contains two large overlapping polyproteins, ORF1a and ORF1ab that encode for several structural and non-structural proteins. The non-structural protein 1 (nsp1) is arguably the most important pathogenic determinant, and previous studies on SARS-CoV indicate that it is both involved in viral replication and hampering the innate immune system response. Detailed experiments of site-specific mutagenesis and in vitro reconstitution studies determined that the mechanisms of action are mediated by (a) the presence of specific amino acid residues of nsp1 and (b) the interaction between the protein and the host's small ribosomal unit. In fact, substitution of certain amino acids resulted in reduction of its negative effects. METHODS: A total of 17,928 genome sequences were obtained from the GISAID database (December 2019 to July 2020) from patients infected by SARS-CoV-2 from different areas around the world. Genomes alignment was performed using MAFFT (REFF) and the nsp1 genomic regions were identified using BioEdit and verified using BLAST. Nsp1 protein of SARS-CoV-2 with and without deletion have been subsequently modelled using I-TASSER. RESULTS: We identified SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences, from several Countries, carrying a previously unknown deletion of 9 nucleotides in position 686-694, corresponding to the AA position 241-243 (KSF). This deletion was found in different geographical areas. Structural prediction modelling suggests an effect on the C-terminal tail structure. CONCLUSIONS: Modelling analysis of a newly identified deletion of 3 amino acids (KSF) of SARS-CoV-2 nsp1 suggests that this deletion could affect the structure of the C-terminal region of the protein, important for regulation of viral replication and negative effect on host's gene expression. In addition, substitution of the two amino acids (KS) from nsp1 of SARS-CoV was previously reported to revert loss of interferon-alpha expression. The deletion that we describe indicates that SARS-CoV-2 is undergoing profound genomic changes. It is important to: (i) confirm the spreading of this particular viral strain, and potentially of strains with other deletions in the nsp1 protein, both in the population of asymptomatic and pauci-symptomatic subjects, and (ii) correlate these changes in nsp1 with potential decreased viral pathogenicity.
    • Impact of lockdown on Covid-19 case fatality rate and viral mutations spread in 7 countries in Europe and North America

      Pachetti, Maria; Marini, Bruna; Giudici, Fabiola; Benedetti, Francesca; Angeletti, Silvia; Ciccozzi, Massimo; Masciovecchio, Claudio; Ippodrino, Rudy; Zella, Davide (Springer Nature, 2020-09-02)
      BACKGROUND: Severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2) caused the first coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in China and has become a public health emergency of international concern. SARS-CoV-2 outbreak has been declared a pandemic by WHO on March 11th, 2020 and the same month several Countries put in place different lockdown restrictions and testing strategies in order to contain the spread of the virus. METHODS: The calculation of the Case Fatality Rate of SARS-CoV-2 in the Countries selected was made by using the data available at https://github.com/owid/covi-19-data/tree/master/public/data . Case fatality rate was calculated as the ratio between the death cases due to COVID-19, over the total number of SARS-CoV-2 reported cases 14 days before. Standard Case Fatality Rate values were normalized by the Country-specific ρ factor, i.e. the number of PCR tests/1 million inhabitants over the number of reported cases/1 million inhabitants. Case-fatality rates between Countries were compared using proportion test. Post-hoc analysis in the case of more than two groups was performed using pairwise comparison of proportions and p value was adjusted using Holm method. We also analyzed 487 genomic sequences from the GISAID database derived from patients infected by SARS-CoV-2 from January 2020 to April 2020 in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, UK and USA. SARS-CoV-2 reference genome was obtained from the GenBank database (NC_045512.2). Genomes alignment was performed using Muscle and Jalview software. We, then, calculated the Case Fatality Rate of SARS-CoV-2 in the Countries selected. RESULTS: In this study we analyse how different lockdown strategies and PCR testing capability adopted by Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, UK and USA have influenced the Case Fatality Rate and the viral mutations spread. We calculated case fatality rates by dividing the death number of a specific day by the number of patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection observed 14 days before and normalized by a ρ factor which takes into account the diagnostic PCR testing capability of each Country and the number of positive cases detected. We notice the stabilization of a clear pattern of mutations at sites nt241, nt3037, nt14408 and nt23403. A novel nonsynonymous SARS-CoV-2 mutation in the spike protein (nt24368) has been found in genomes sequenced in Sweden, which enacted a soft lockdown strategy. CONCLUSIONS: Strict lockdown strategies together with a wide diagnostic PCR testing of the population were correlated with a relevant decline of the case fatality rate in different Countries. The emergence of specific patterns of mutations concomitant with the decline in case fatality rate needs further confirmation and their biological significance remains unclear.
    • The importance of genomic analysis in cracking the coronavirus pandemic

      Zella, Davide; Giovanetti, Marta; Cella, Eleonora; Borsetti, Alessandra; Ciotti, Marco; Ceccarelli, Giancarlo; D'Ettorre, Gabriella; Pezzuto, Aldo; Tambone, Vittoradolfo; Campanozzi, Laura; et al. (Taylor and Francis Inc., 2021-04-28)
      Introduction: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has pushed the scientific community to undertake intense research efforts. Understanding SARS-CoV-2 biology is necessary to discover therapeutic or preventive strategies capable of containing the pandemic. Knowledge of the structural characteristics of the virus genome and proteins is essential to find targets for therapies and immunological interventions.Areas covered: This review covers different areas of expertise, genomic analysis of circulating strains, structural biology, viral mutations, molecular diagnostics, disease, and vaccines. In particular, the review is focused on the molecular approaches and modern clinical strategies used in these fields.Expert opinion: Molecular approaches to SARS-CoV-2 pandemic have been critical to shorten time for new diagnostic, therapeutic and prevention strategies. In this perspective, the entire scientific community is moving in the same direction. Vaccines, together with the development of new drugs to treat the disease, represent the most important strategy to protect human from viral disease and prevent further spread. In this regard, new molecular technologies have been successfully implemented. The use of a novel strategy of communication is suggested for a better diffusion to the broader public of new data and results.
    • SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617 Indian variants: Are electrostatic potential changes responsible for a higher transmission rate?

      Pascarella, Stefano; Ciccozzi, Massimo; Zella, Davide; Bianchi, Martina; Benedetti, Francesca; Benvenuto, Domenico; Broccolo, Francesco; Cauda, Roberto; Caruso, Arnaldo; Angeletti, Silvia; et al. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2021-07-14)
      Lineage B.1.617+, also known as G/452R.V3 and now denoted by WHO with the Greek letters δ and κ, is a recently described SARS-CoV-2 variant under investigation first identified in October 2020 in India. As of May 2021, three sublineages labeled as B.1.617.1 (κ), B.1.617.2 (δ), and B.1.617.3 have been already identified, and their potential impact on the current pandemic is being studied. This variant has 13 amino acid changes, three in its spike protein, which are currently of particular concern: E484Q, L452R, and P681R. Here, we report a major effect of the mutations characterizing this lineage, represented by a marked alteration of the surface electrostatic potential (EP) of the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein. Enhanced RBD-EP is particularly noticeable in the B.1.617.2 (δ) sublineage, which shows multiple replacements of neutral or negatively charged amino acids with positively charged amino acids. We here hypothesize that this EP change can favor the interaction between the B.1.617+ RBD and the negatively charged ACE2, thus conferring a potential increase in the virus transmission. © 2021 The Authors.
    • SARS-CoV-2 shifting transmission dynamics and hidden reservoirs potentially limit efficacy of public health interventions in Italy

      Giovanetti, Marta; Cella, Eleonora; Benedetti, Francesca; Rife Magalis, Brittany; Fonseca, Vagner; Fabris, Silvia; Campisi, Giovanni; Ciccozzi, Alessandra; Angeletti, Silvia; Borsetti, Alessandra; et al. (Springer Nature, 2021-04-21)
      We investigated SARS-CoV-2 transmission dynamics in Italy, one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, using phylodynamic analysis of viral genetic and epidemiological data. We observed the co-circulation of multiple SARS-CoV-2 lineages over time, which were linked to multiple importations and characterized by large transmission clusters concomitant with a high number of infections. Subsequent implementation of a three-phase nationwide lockdown strategy greatly reduced infection numbers and hospitalizations. Yet we present evidence of sustained viral spread among sporadic clusters acting as "hidden reservoirs" during summer 2020. Mathematical modelling shows that increased mobility among residents eventually catalyzed the coalescence of such clusters, thus driving up the number of infections and initiating a new epidemic wave. Our results suggest that the efficacy of public health interventions is, ultimately, limited by the size and structure of epidemic reservoirs, which may warrant prioritization during vaccine deployment.
    • The variants question: What is the problem?

      Zella, Davide; Giovanetti, Marta; Benedetti, Francesca; Unali, Francesco; Spoto, Silvia; Guarino, Michele; Angeletti, Silvia; Ciccozzi, Massimo (Wiley-Blackwell, 2021-07-13)
      The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) originated in Wuhan, China in early December 2019 has rapidly widespread worldwide. Over the course of the pandemic, due to the advance of whole-genome sequencing technologies, an unprecedented number of genomes have been generated, providing both invaluable insights into the ongoing evolution and epidemiology of the virus and allowing the identification of hundreds of circulating genetic variants during the pandemic. In recent months variants of SARS-CoV-2 that have an increased number of mutations on the Spike protein have brought concern all over the world. These have been called “variants of concerns” (VOCs), and/or “variants of interests” (VOIs) as it has been suggested that their genome mutations might impact transmission, immune control, and virulence. Tracking the spread of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants is crucial to inform public health efforts and control the ongoing pandemic. In this review, a concise characterization of the SARS-CoV-2 mutational patterns of the main VOCs and VOIs circulating and cocirculating worldwide has been presented to determine the magnitude of the SARS-CoV-2 threat to better understand the virus genetic diversity and its potential impact on vaccination strategy.