Memory B cells (MBCs) generate rapid antibody responses upon secondary encounter with a pathogen. Here, we investigated the kinetics, avidity and cross-reactivity of serum antibodies and MBCs in 155 SARS-CoV-2 infected and vaccinated individuals over a 16-month timeframe. SARS-CoV-2-specific MBCs and serum antibodies reached steady-state titers with comparable kinetics in infected and vaccinated individuals. Whereas MBCs of infected individuals targeted both pre- and postfusion Spike (S), most vaccine-elicited MBCs were specific for prefusion S, consistent with the use of prefusion-stabilized S in mRNA vaccines. Furthermore, a large fraction of MBCs recognizing postfusion S cross-reacted with human betacoronaviruses. The avidity of MBC-derived and serum antibodies increased over time resulting in enhanced resilience to viral escape by SARS-CoV-2 variants, including Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 sub-lineages, albeit only partially for BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages. Overall, the maturation of high-affinity and broadly-reactive MBCs provides the basis for effective recall responses to future SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Subject(s)Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome , Infections , Lymphoma, B-Cell
Coronaviruses use diverse Spike (S) glycoproteins to attach to host receptors and fuse with target cells. Using a broad screening approach, we isolated from SARS-CoV-2 immune donors seven monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that bind to all human alpha and beta coronavirus S proteins. These mAbs recognize the fusion peptide and acquire high affinity and breadth through somatic mutations. Despite targeting a conserved motif, only some mAbs show broad neutralizing activity in vitro against alpha and beta coronaviruses, including Omicron BA.1 variant and bat WIV-1, and reduce viral titers and pathology in vivo. Structural and functional analyses show that the fusion peptide-specific mAbs bind with different modalities to a cryptic epitope which is concealed by prefusion-stabilizing 2P mutations and becomes exposed upon binding of ACE2 or ACE2-mimicking mAbs. This study identifies a new class of pan-coronavirus neutralizing mAbs and reveals a receptor-induced conformational change in the S protein that exposes the fusion peptide region.
The identification of CD4+ T cell epitopes is essential for the design of effective vaccines capable of inducing neutralizing antibodies and long-term immunity. Here we demonstrate in COVID-19 patients a robust CD4+ T cell response to naturally processed SARS-CoV-2 Spike and Nucleoprotein, including effector, helper and memory T cells. By characterizing 2,943 Spike-reactive T cell clones, we found that 34% of the clones and 93% of the patients recognized a conserved immunodominant region encompassing residues S346-365 in the RBD and comprising three nested HLA-DR and HLA-DP restricted epitopes. By using pre- and post-COVID-19 samples and Spike proteins from alpha and beta coronaviruses, we provide in vivo evidence of cross-reactive T cell responses targeting multiple sites in the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein. The possibility of leveraging immunodominant and cross-reactive T helper epitopes is instrumental for vaccination strategies that can be rapidly adapted to counteract emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.