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Evolution of Antibody Immunity to SARS-CoV-2

OPEN bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology | 12 Nov 2020

C Gaebler, Z Wang, JCC Lorenzi, F Muecksch, S Finkin, M Tokuyama, M Ladinsky, A Cho, M Jankovic, D Schaefer-Babajew, TY Oliveira, M Cipolla, C Viant, CO Barnes, A Hurley, M Turroja, K Gordon, KG Millard, V Ramos, F Schmidt, Y Weisblum, D Jha, M Tankelevich, J Yee, I Shimeliovich, DF Robbiani, Z Zhao, A Gazumyan, T Hatziioannou, PJ Bjorkman, S Mehandru, PD Bieniasz, M Caskey and MC Nussenzweig
SARS-CoV-2 has infected 47 million individuals and is responsible for over 1.2 million deaths to date. Infection is associated with development of variable levels of antibodies with neutralizing activity that can protect against infection in animal models. Antibody levels decrease with time, but the nature and quality of the memory B cells that would be called upon to produce antibodies upon re-infection has not been examined. Here we report on the humoral memory response in a cohort of 87 individuals assessed at 1.3 and 6.2 months after infection. We find that IgM, and IgG anti-SARS-CoV-2 spike protein receptor binding domain (RBD) antibody titers decrease significantly with IgA being less affected. Concurrently, neutralizing activity in plasma decreases by five-fold in pseudotype virus assays. In contrast, the number of RBD-specific memory B cells is unchanged. Memory B cells display clonal turnover after 6.2 months, and the antibodies they express have greater somatic hypermutation, increased potency and resistance to RBD mutations, indicative of continued evolution of the humoral response. Analysis of intestinal biopsies obtained from asymptomatic individuals 3 months after COVID-19 onset, using immunofluorescence, electron tomography or polymerase chain reaction, revealed persistence of SARS-CoV-2 in the small bowel of 7 out of 14 volunteers. We conclude that the memory B cell response to SARS-CoV-2 evolves between 1.3 and 6.2 months after infection in a manner that is consistent with antigen persistence.
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