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COVID-19: JN.1 sub-variant has higher transmissibility and immune escape ability 

Spike mutation (S: L455S) is hallmark mutation of JN.1 sub-variant which significantly enhances its immune evasion capability enabling it to effectively evade Class 1 neutralizing antibodies. A study supports use of updated COVID-19 vaccines with spike protein to further protect the public.  

A surge in COVID-19 cases has been reported in many parts of the world. A new sub-variant JN.1 (BA.2.86.1.1) which evolved rapidly from BA.2.86 variant recently has been causing concern.  

JN.1 (BA.2.86.1.1) sub-variant possesses an additional spike mutation (S: L455S) compared to its precursor BA.2.86. This is hallmark mutation of JN.1 which significantly enhances its immune evasion capability enabling it to effectively evade Class 1 neutralizing antibodies. JN.1 also harbours three mutations in non-S proteins. Overall, JN.1 has increased transmissibility and immune escape ability1,2.  

COVID-19 vaccines have come a long way since pandemic and have been updated with reference to the spike protein to meet the challenges posed by newly emergent variants.  

A recent study suggests that an updated monovalent mRNA vaccine (XBB.1.5 MV) is effective in boosting serum virus-neutralization antibodies significantly against many sub-variants including against JN.1. This study supports the use the updated COVID-19 vaccines with spike protein to further protect the public3.  

On if JN.1 sub-variant presents an increased risk to public health relative to other currently circulating variants, CDC says there is no evidence4.  

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References:  

  1. Yang S., et al 2023. Fast evolution of SARS-CoV-2 BA.2.86 to JN.1 under heavy immune pressure. Preprint bioRxiv. Posted November 17, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.11.13.566860  
  2. Kaku Y., et al 2023. Virological characteristics of the SARS-CoV-2 JN.1 variant. Preprint bioRxiv. Posted December 09, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.12.08.570782  
  3. Wang Q. et al 2023. XBB.1.5 monovalent mRNA vaccine booster elicits robust neutralizing antibodies against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. Preprint bioRxiv. Posted December 06, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.11.26.568730  
  4. Center for Disease Control. Update on SARS-CoV-2 Variant JN.1 Being Tracked by CDC. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/respiratory-viruses/whats-new/SARS-CoV-2-variant-JN.1.html   

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Umesh Prasad
Umesh Prasad
Science journalist | Founder editor, Scientific European magazine

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