Evolutionary and functional studies have suggested that the emergence of Omicron variants can be determined by multiple fitness tradeoffs including immune escape, binding affinity, conformational plasticity, protein stability, and allosteric modulation. In this study, we embarked on a systematic comparative analysis of the conformational dynamics, electrostatics, protein stability, and allostery in the different functional states of spike trimers for BA.1, BA.2, and BA.2.75 variants. Using efficient and accurate coarse-grained simulations and atomistic reconstruction of the ensembles, we examined the conformational dynamics of the spike trimers that agree with the recent functional studies, suggesting that BA.2.75 trimers are the most stable among these variants. A systematic mutational scanning of the inter-protomer interfaces in the spike trimers revealed a group of conserved structural stability hotspots that play a key role in the modulation of functional dynamics and are also involved in the inter-protomer couplings through local contacts and interaction networks with the Omicron mutational sites. The results of mutational scanning provided evidence that BA.2.75 trimers are more stable than BA.2 and comparable in stability to the BA.1 variant. Using dynamic network modeling of the S Omicron BA.1, BA.2, and BA.2.75 trimers, we showed that the key network mediators of allosteric interactions are associated with the major stability hotspots that are interconnected along potential communication pathways. The network analysis of the BA.1, BA.2, and BA.2.75 trimers suggested that the increased thermodynamic stability of the BA.2.75 variant may be linked with the organization and modularity of the residue interaction network that allows for allosteric communications between structural stability hotspots and Omicron mutational sites. This study provided a plausible rationale for a mechanism in which Omicron mutations may evolve by targeting vulnerable sites of conformational adaptability to elicit immune escape while maintaining their control on balancing protein stability and functional fitness through robust allosteric communications with the stability hotspots.
Verkhivker, G.; Alshahrani, M.; Gupta, G. Coarse-Grained Molecular Simulations and Ensemble-Based Mutational Profiling of Protein Stability in the Different Functional Forms of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike Trimers: Balancing Stability and Adaptability in BA.1, BA.2 and BA.2.75 Variants. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2023, 24, 6642. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms24076642
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