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In this study, we combine all-atom MD simulations and comprehensive mutational scanning of S-RBD complexes with the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) host receptor in the native form as well as the S-RBD Delta and Omicron variants to (a) examine the differences in the dynamic signatures of the S-RBD complexes and (b) identify the critical binding hotspots and sensitivity of the mutational positions. We also examined the differences in allosteric interactions and communications in the S-RBD complexes for the Delta and Omicron variants. Through the perturbation-based scanning of the allosteric propensities of the SARS-CoV-2 S-RBD residues and dynamics-based network centrality and community analyses, we characterize the global mediating centers in the complexes and the nature of local stabilizing communities. We show that a constellation of mutational sites (G496S, Q498R, N501Y and Y505H) correspond to key binding energy hotspots and also contribute decisively to the key interfacial communities that mediate allosteric communications between S-RBD and ACE2. These Omicron mutations are responsible for both favorable local binding interactions and long-range allosteric interactions, providing key functional centers that mediate the high transmissibility of the virus. At the same time, our results show that other mutational sites could provide a “flexible shield” surrounding the stable community network, thereby allowing the Omicron virus to modulate immune evasion at different epitopes, while protecting the integrity of binding and allosteric interactions in the RBD–ACE2 complexes. This study suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 S protein may exploit the plasticity of the RBD to generate escape mutants, while engaging a small group of functional hotspots to mediate efficient local binding interactions and long-range allosteric communications with ACE2.


This article was originally published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, volume 23, in 2022.

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

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



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