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Seasonal coronavirus–specific B cells with limited SARS-CoV-2 cross-reactivity dominate the IgG response in severe COVID-19

September 9, 2021

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the cause of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Research by Muriel Aguilar-Bretones, Brenda M. Westerhuis, Matthijs P. Raadsen, Erwin de Bruin, Felicity D. Chandler, Nisreen M.A. Okba, Bart L. Haagmans, Thomas Langerak, Henrik Endeman, Johannes P.C. van den Akker, Diederik A.M.P.J. Gommers, Eric C.M. van Gorp, Corine H. GeurtsvanKessel, Rory D. de Vries, Ron A.M. Fouchier, Barry H.G. Rockx, Marion P.G. Koopmans, and Gijsbert P. van Nierop

Little is known about the interplay between preexisting immunity to endemic seasonal coronaviruses and the development of a SARS-CoV-2–specific IgG response. We investigated the kinetics, breadth, magnitude, and level of cross-reactivity of IgG antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and heterologous seasonal and epidemic coronaviruses at the clonal level in patients with mild or severe COVID-19 as well as in disease control patients. We assessed antibody reactivity to nucleocapsid and spike antigens and correlated this IgG response to SARS-CoV-2 neutralization. Patients with COVID-19 mounted a mostly type-specific SARS-CoV-2 response. Additionally, IgG clones directed against a seasonal coronavirus were boosted in patients with severe COVID-19. These boosted clones showed limited cross-reactivity and did not neutralize SARS-CoV-2. These findings indicate a boost of poorly protective CoV-specific antibodies in patients with COVID-19 that correlated with disease severity, revealing “original antigenic sin.”

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