The SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein is exposed on the viral surface and is the first point of contact between the virus and the host. For these reasons it represents the prime target for Covid-19 vaccines. In recent months, variants of this protein have started to emerge. Their ability to reduce or evade recognition by S-targeting antibodies poses a threat to immunological treatments and raises concerns for their consequences on vaccine efficacy. To develop a model able to predict the potential impact of S-protein mutations on antibody binding sites, we performed unbiased multi-microsecond molecular dynamics of several glycosylated S-protein variants and applied a straightforward structure-dynamics-energy based strategy to predict potential changes in immunogenic regions on each variant. We recover known epitopes on the reference D614G sequence. By comparing our results, obtained on isolated S-proteins in solution, to recently published data on antibody binding and reactivity in new S variants, we directly show that modifications in the S-protein consistently translate into the loss of potentially immunoreactive regions. Our findings can thus be qualitatively reconnected to the experimentally characterized decreased ability of some of the Abs elicited against the dominant S-sequence to recognize variants. While based on the study of SARS-CoV-2 spike variants, our computational epitope-prediction strategy is portable and could be applied to study immunoreactivity in mutants of proteins of interest whose structures have been characterized, helping the development/selection of vaccines and antibodies able to control emerging variants.
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