AlphaFold2 Reveals Structural Patterns of Seasonal Haplotype Diversification in SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Variants

Muhammad Asif Ali, Gustavo Caetano-Anollés

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The slow experimental acquisition of high-quality atomic structures of the rapidly changing proteins of the COVID-19 virus challenges vaccine and therapeutic drug development efforts. Fortunately, deep learning tools such as AlphaFold2 can quickly generate reliable models of atomic structure at experimental resolution. Current modeling studies have focused solely on definitions of mutant constellations of Variants of Concern (VOCs), leaving out the impact of haplotypes on protein structure. Here, we conduct a thorough comparative structural analysis of S-proteins belonging to major VOCs and corresponding latitude-delimited haplotypes that affect viral seasonal behavior. Our approach identified molecular regions of importance as well as patterns of structural recruitment. The S1 subunit hosted the majority of structural changes, especially those involving the N-terminal domain (NTD) and the receptor-binding domain (RBD). In particular, structural changes in the NTD were much greater than just translations in three-dimensional space, altering the sub-structures to greater extents. We also revealed a notable pattern of structural recruitment with the early VOCs Alpha and Delta behaving antagonistically by suppressing regions of structural change introduced by their corresponding haplotypes, and the current VOC Omicron behaving synergistically by amplifying or collecting structural change. Remarkably, haplotypes altering the galectin-like structure of the NTD were major contributors to seasonal behavior, supporting its putative environmental-sensing role. Our results provide an extensive view of the evolutionary landscape of the S-protein across the COVID-19 pandemic. This view will help predict important regions of structural change in future variants and haplotypes for more efficient vaccine and drug development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number134
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • COVID-19
  • recruitment
  • pandemic
  • evolutionary pressure
  • protein structure
  • mutation
  • spike protein
  • AlphaFold
  • variant of concern
  • haplotypes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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