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During the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, a variety of mutations have been accumulated in the viral genome, and currently, four variants of concerns (VOCs) are considered as the hazardous SARS-CoV-2 variants to the human society1. The newly emerging VOC, the B.1.617.2/Delta variant, closely associates with a huge COVID-19 surge in India in Spring 20212. However, its virological property remains unclear. Here, we show that the B.1.617.2/Delta variant is highly fusogenic, and notably, more pathogenic than prototypic SARS-CoV-2 in infected hamsters. The P681R mutation in the spike protein, which is highly conserved in this lineage, facilitates the spike protein cleavage and enhances viral fusogenicity. Moreover, we demonstrate that the P681R-bearing virus exhibits higher pathogenicity than the parental virus. Our data suggest that the P681R mutation is a hallmark that characterizes the virological phenotype of the B.1.617.2/Delta variant and is closely associated with enhanced pathogenicity.

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