Evolutionary and structural analysis of SARS-CoV-2 specific evasion of host immunity

Irfan Hussain, Nashaiman Pervaiz, Abbas Khan, Shoaib Saleem, Huma Shireen, Dong Qing Wei, Viviane Labrie, Yiming Bao, Amir Ali Abbasi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is spreading fast worldwide. There is a pressing need to understand how the virus counteracts host innate immune responses. Deleterious clinical manifestations of coronaviruses have been associated with virus-induced direct dysregulation of innate immune responses occurring via viral macrodomains located within nonstructural protein-3 (Nsp3). However, no substantial information is available concerning the relationship of macrodomains to the unusually high pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2. Here, we show that structural evolution of macrodomains may impart a critical role to the unique pathogenicity of SARS-CoV-2. Using sequence, structural, and phylogenetic analysis, we identify a specific set of historical substitutions that recapitulate the evolution of the macrodomains that counteract host immune response. These evolutionary substitutions may alter and reposition the secondary structural elements to create new intra-protein contacts and, thereby, may enhance the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to inhibit host immunity. Further, we find that the unusual virulence of this virus is potentially the consequence of Darwinian selection‐driven epistasis in protein evolution. Our findings warrant further characterization of macrodomain-specific evolutionary substitutions in in vitro and in vivo models to determine their inhibitory effects on the host immune system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-419
Number of pages11
JournalGenes and Immunity
Issue number6-8
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


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