Pre-existing and de novo humoral immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in humans
Catherine F Houlihan,
Gee Yen Shin,
Moira J Spyer,
Philip A Walker,
Laura E McCoy,
Posted 15 May 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.14.095414
Posted 15 May 2020
Several related human coronaviruses (HCoVs) are endemic in the human population, causing mild respiratory infections. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the etiologic agent of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is a recent zoonotic infection that has quickly reached pandemic spread. Zoonotic introduction of novel coronaviruses is thought to occur in the absence of pre-existing immunity in the target human population. Using diverse assays for detection of antibodies reactive with the SARS-CoV-2 Spike (S) glycoprotein, we demonstrate the presence of pre-existing immunity in uninfected and unexposed humans to the new coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 S-reactive antibodies, exclusively of the IgG class, were readily detectable by a sensitive flow cytometry-based method in SARS-CoV-2-uninfected individuals with recent HCoV infection and targeted the S2 subunit. In contrast, SARS-CoV-2 infection induced higher titres of SARS-CoV-2 S-reactive IgG antibodies, as well as concomitant IgM and IgA antibodies throughout the observation period of 6 weeks since symptoms onset. HCoV patient sera also variably reacted with SARS-CoV-2 S and nucleocapsid (N), but not with the S1 subunit or the receptor binding domain (RBD) of S on standard enzyme immunoassays. Notably, HCoV patient sera exhibited specific neutralising activity against SARS-CoV-2 S pseudotypes, according to levels of SARS-CoV-2 S-binding IgG and with efficiencies comparable to those of COVID-19 patient sera. Distinguishing pre-existing and de novo antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 will be critical for serology, seroprevalence and vaccine studies, as well as for our understanding of susceptibility to and natural course of SARS-CoV-2 infection. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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