N4-hydroxycytidine, the active compound of Molnupiravir, promotes SARS-CoV-2 mutagenesis and escape from a neutralizing nanobody


Zibat A, Zhang X, Dickmanns A, Stegmann KM, Dobbelstein A, Alachram H, Soliwoda R, Salinas G, Groß U, Görlich D, Kschischo M, Wollnik B, Dobbelstein M




iScience. 2023 Aug 30;26(10):107786.


N4-hydroxycytidine (NHC), the active compound of the drug Molnupiravir, is incorporated into SARS-CoV-2 RNA, causing false basepairing. The desired result is an ‘error catastrophe’, but this bears the risk of mutated virus progeny. To address this experimentally, we propagated the initial SARS-CoV-2 strain in the presence of NHC. Deep sequencing revealed numerous NHC-induced mutations and host cell-adapted virus variants. The presence of the neutralizing nanobody Re5D06 selected for immune escape mutations, in particular p.E484K and p.F490S, which are key mutations of the Beta/Gamma and Omicron-XBB strains, respectively. With NHC treatment, nanobody resistance occurred two passages earlier than without. Thus, within the limitations of this purely in vitro study, we conclude that the combined action of Molnupiravir and a spike-neutralizing antagonist leads to the rapid emergence of escape mutants. We propose caution use and supervision when using Molnupiravir, especially when patients are still at risk of spreading virus.


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