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Omicron BA.2 breakthrough infection enhances cross-neutralization of BA.2.12.1 and BA.4/BA.5

By Alexander Muik, Bonny Gaby Lui, Maren Bacher, Ann-Kathrin Wallisch, Aras Toker, Andrew Finlayson, Kimberly Krueger, Orkun Ozhelvaci, Katharina Grikscheit, Sebastian Hoehl, Sandra Ciesek, Oezlem Tuereci, Ugur Sahin

Posted 02 Aug 2022
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2022.08.02.502461

Recently, we reported that BNT162b2-vaccinated individuals after Omicron BA.1 breakthrough infection have strong serum neutralizing activity against Omicron BA.1, BA.2, and previous SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs), yet less against the highly contagious Omicron sublineages BA.4 and BA.5 that have displaced previous variants. As the latter sublineages are derived from Omicron BA.2, we characterized serum neutralizing activity of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine triple-immunized individuals who experienced BA.2 breakthrough infection. We demonstrate that sera of these individuals have broadly neutralizing activity against previous VOCs as well as all tested Omicron sublineages, including BA.2 derived variants BA.2.12.1, BA.4/BA.5. Furthermore, applying antibody depletion we showed that neutralization of BA.2 and BA.4/BA.5 sublineages by BA.2 convalescent sera is driven to a significant extent by antibodies targeting the N-terminal domain (NTD) of the spike glycoprotein, whereas their neutralization by Omicron BA.1 convalescent sera depends exclusively on antibodies targeting the receptor binding domain (RBD). These findings suggest that exposure to Omicron BA.2, in contrast to BA.1 spike glycoprotein, triggers significant NTD specific recall responses in vaccinated individuals and thereby enhances the neutralization of BA.4/BA.5 sublineages. Given the current epidemiology with a predominance of BA.2 derived sublineages like BA.4/BA.5 and rapidly ongoing evolution, these findings are of high relevance for the development of Omicron adapted vaccines.

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