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Evaluation of a multi-species SARS-CoV-2 surrogate virus neutralization test

October 1, 2021

Research by Carmen W.E. Embregts, Babs Verstrepen, Jan A.M. Langermans, Kinga P. Böszörményi, Reina S. Sikkema, Rory D. de Vries, Donata Hoffmann, Kerstin Wernike, Lidwien A.M. Smit, Shan Zhao, Barry Rockx, Marion P.G. Koopmans, Bart L. Haagmans, Thijs Kuiken & Corine H. GeurtsvanKessel



Assays to measure SARS-CoV-2-specific neutralizing antibodies are important to monitor seroprevalence, to study asymptomatic infections and to reveal (intermediate) hosts. A recently developed assay, the surrogate virus-neutralization test (sVNT) is a quick and commercially available alternative to the “gold standard” virus neutralization assay using authentic virus, and does not require processing at BSL-3 level. The assay relies on the inhibition of binding of the receptor binding domain (RBD) on the spike (S) protein to human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) by antibodies present in sera. As the sVNT does not require species- or isotype-specific conjugates, it can be similarly used for antibody detection in human and animal sera. In this study, we used 298 sera from PCR-confirmed COVID-19 patients and 151 sera from patients confirmed with other coronavirus or other (respiratory) infections, to evaluate the performance of the sVNT. To analyze the use of the assay in a One Health setting, we studied the presence of RBD-binding antibodies in 154 sera from nine animal species (cynomolgus and rhesus macaques, ferrets, rabbits, hamsters, cats, cattle, mink and dromedary camels). The sVNT showed a moderate to high sensitivity and a high specificity using sera from confirmed COVID-19 patients (91.3% and 100%, respectively) and animal sera (93.9% and 100%), however it lacked sensitivity to detect low titers. Significant correlations were found between the sVNT outcomes and PRNT50 and the Wantai total Ig and IgM ELISAs. While species-specific validation will be essential, our results show that the sVNT holds promise in detecting RBD-binding antibodies in multiple species.

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