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Identification and quantification of SARS-CoV-2 leader subgenomic mRNA gene junctions in nasopharyngeal samples shows phasic transcription in animal models of COVID-19 and aberrant pattens in humans

By Xiaofeng Dong, Rebekah Penrice-Randal, Hannah Goldswain, Tessa Prince, Nadine Randle, Javier Salguero, Julia Tree, Ecaterina Vamos, Charlotte Nelson, ISARIC-4C Investigators, COG-UK Consortium, David A Matthews, Miles W Carroll, Alistair C Darby, Julian Alexander Hiscox

Posted 03 Mar 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.03.433753

IntroductionSARS-CoV-2 has a complex strategy for the transcription of viral subgenomic mRNAs (sgmRNAs), which are targets for nucleic acid diagnostics. Each of these sgRNAs has a unique 5 sequence, the leader-transcriptional regulatory sequence gene junction (leader-TRS-junction), that can be identified using sequencing. ResultsHigh resolution sequencing has been used to investigate the biology of SARS-CoV-2 and the host response in cell culture models and from clinical samples. LeTRS, a bioinformatics tool, was developed to identify leader-TRS-junctions and be used as a proxy to quantify sgmRNAs for understanding virus biology. This was tested on published datasets and clinical samples from patients and longitudinal samples from animal models with COVID-19. DiscussionLeTRS identified known leader-TRS-junctions and identified novel species that were common across different species. The data indicated multi-phasic abundance of sgmRNAs in two different animal models, with spikes in sgmRNA abundance reflected in human samples, and therefore has implications for transmission models and nucleic acid-based diagnostics.

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