s41586-023-06649-6.pdf (3.87 MB)
A molnupiravir-associated mutational signature in global SARS-CoV-2 genomes
journal contributionposted on 2023-11-16, 12:22 authored by Theo Sanderson, Ryan Hisner, I’ah Donovan-Banfield, Hassan Hartman, Alessandra Løchen, Thomas P Peacock, Christopher Ruis
Molnupiravir, an antiviral medication that has been widely used against SARS-CoV-2, acts by inducing mutations in the virus genome during replication. Most random mutations are likely to be deleterious to the virus, and many will be lethal, and so molnupiravir-induced elevated mutation rates reduce viral load1,2. However, if some patients treated with molnupiravir do not fully clear SARS-CoV-2 infections, there could be the potential for onward transmission of molnupiravir-mutated viruses. Here we show that SARS-CoV-2 sequencing databases contain extensive evidence of molnupiravir mutagenesis. Using a systematic approach, we find that a specific class of long phylogenetic branches, distinguished by a high proportion of G-to-A and C-to-T mutations, appear almost exclusively in sequences from 2022, after the introduction of molnupiravir treatment, and in countries and age-groups with widespread usage of the drug. We identify a mutational spectrum, with preferred nucleotide contexts, from viruses in patients known to have been treated with molnupiravir and show that its signature matches that seen in these long branches, in some cases with onwards transmission of molnupiravir-derived lineages. Finally, we analyse treatment records to confirm a direct association between these high G-to-A branches and the use of molnupiravir.