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biorxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.09.30.509852


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.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome , Infections , Lymphoma, B-Cell
biorxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.03.30.486377


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.

Coronavirus Infections
biorxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.03.23.436642


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.

biorxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.11.04.361576


The COVID-19 pandemic is a widespread and deadly public health crisis. The pathogen SARS-CoV-2 replicates in the lower respiratory tract and causes fatal pneumonia. Although tremendous efforts have been put into investigating the pathogeny of SARS-CoV-2, the underlying mechanism of how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with its host is largely unexplored. Here, by comparing the genomic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 and human, we identified five fully conserved elements in SARS-CoV-2 genome, which were termed as "human identical sequences (HIS)". HIS are also recognized in both SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV genome. Meanwhile, HIS-SARS-CoV-2 are highly conserved in the primate. Mechanically, HIS-SARS-CoV-2 RNA directly binds to the targeted loci in human genome and further interacts with host enhancers to activate the expression of adjacent and distant genes, including cytokines gene and angiotensin converting enzyme II (ACE2), a well-known cell entry receptor of SARS-CoV-2, and hyaluronan synthase 2 (HAS2), which further increases hyaluronan formation. Noteworthily, hyaluronan level in plasma of COVID-19 patients is tightly correlated with severity and high risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and may act as a predictor for the progression of COVID-19. HIS antagomirs, which downregulate hyaluronan level effectively, and 4-Methylumbelliferone (MU), an inhibitor of hyaluronan synthesis, are potential drugs to relieve the ARDS related ground-glass pattern in lung for COVID-19 treatment. Our results revealed that unprecedented HIS elements of SARS-CoV-2 contribute to the cytokine storm and ARDS in COVID-19 patients. Thus, blocking HIS-involved activating processes or hyaluronan synthesis directly by 4-MU may be effective strategies to alleviate COVID-19 progression.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome , Dissociative Identity Disorder , Pneumonia , Respiratory Distress Syndrome , COVID-19
biorxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.11.04.355842


SARS-CoV-2 can mutate to evade immunity, with consequences for the efficacy of emerging vaccines and antibody therapeutics. Herein we demonstrate that the immunodominant SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) receptor binding motif (RBM) is the most divergent region of S, and provide epidemiological, clinical, and molecular characterization of a prevalent RBM variant, N439K. We demonstrate that N439K S protein has enhanced binding affinity to the hACE2 receptor, and that N439K virus has similar clinical outcomes and in vitro replication fitness as compared to wild- type. We observed that the N439K mutation resulted in immune escape from a panel of neutralizing monoclonal antibodies, including one in clinical trials, as well as from polyclonal sera from a sizeable fraction of persons recovered from infection. Immune evasion mutations that maintain virulence and fitness such as N439K can emerge within SARS-CoV-2 S, highlighting the need for ongoing molecular surveillance to guide development and usage of vaccines and therapeutics.