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SARS-CoV-2 ORF3b is a potent interferon antagonist whose activity is further increased by a naturally occurring elongation variant

By Yoriyuki Konno, Izumi Kimura, Keiya Uriu, Masaya Fukushi, Takashi Irie, Yoshio Koyanagi, So Nakagawa, Kei Sato

Posted 12 May 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.11.088179 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.108185)

One of the features distinguishing SARS-CoV-2 from its more pathogenic counterpart SARS-CoV is the presence of premature stop codons in its ORF3b gene. Here, we show that SARS-CoV-2 ORF3b is a potent interferon antagonist, suppressing the induction of type I interferon more efficiently than its SARS-CoV ortholog. Phylogenetic analyses and functional assays revealed that SARS-CoV-2-related viruses from bats and pangolins also encode truncated ORF3b gene products with strong anti-interferon activity. Furthermore, analyses of more than 15,000 SARS-CoV-2 sequences identified a natural variant, in which a longer ORF3b reading frame was reconstituted. This variant was isolated from two patients with severe disease and further increased the ability of ORF3b to suppress interferon induction. Thus, our findings not only help to explain the poor interferon response in COVID-19 patients, but also describe a possibility of the emergence of natural SARS-CoV-2 quasispecies with extended ORF3b that may exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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