Document Type


Publication Date



In this study, we performed a computational study of binding mechanisms for the SARS-CoV-2 spike Omicron XBB lineages with the host cell receptor ACE2 and a panel of diverse class one antibodies. The central objective of this investigation was to examine the molecular factors underlying epistatic couplings among convergent evolution hotspots that enable optimal balancing of ACE2 binding and antibody evasion for Omicron variants BA.1, BA2, BA.3, BA.4/BA.5, BQ.1.1, XBB.1, XBB.1.5, and XBB.1.5 + L455F/F456L. By combining evolutionary analysis, molecular dynamics simulations, and ensemble-based mutational scanning of spike protein residues in complexes with ACE2, we identified structural stability and binding affinity hotspots that are consistent with the results of biochemical studies. In agreement with the results of deep mutational scanning experiments, our quantitative analysis correctly reproduced strong and variant-specific epistatic effects in the XBB.1.5 and BA.2 variants. It was shown that Y453W and F456L mutations can enhance ACE2 binding when coupled with Q493 in XBB.1.5, while these mutations become destabilized when coupled with the R493 position in the BA.2 variant. The results provided a molecular rationale of the epistatic mechanism in Omicron variants, showing a central role of the Q493/R493 hotspot in modulating epistatic couplings between convergent mutational sites L455F and F456L in XBB lineages. The results of mutational scanning and binding analysis of the Omicron XBB spike variants with ACE2 receptors and a panel of class one antibodies provide a quantitative rationale for the experimental evidence that epistatic interactions of the physically proximal binding hotspots Y501, R498, Q493, L455F, and F456L can determine strong ACE2 binding, while convergent mutational sites F456L and F486P are instrumental in mediating broad antibody resistance. The study supports a mechanism in which the impact on ACE2 binding affinity is mediated through a small group of universal binding hotspots, while the effect of immune evasion could be more variant-dependent and modulated by convergent mutational sites in the conformationally adaptable spike regions.


This article was originally published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, volume 25, in 2024.

This scholarship is part of the Chapman University COVID-19 Archives.

Peer Reviewed



The authors

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.