Background: Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged as a human disease in 2002. Detailed phylogenetic analysis and epidemiologic studies have suggested that the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) originated from animals. The spike (S) glycoprotein has been identified as a major target of protective immunity and contains 3 regions that are targeted by neutralizing antibodies in the S1 and S2 domains. We previously characterized a panel of neutralizing human monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), but the majority of epitopes recognized by the MAbs remain unknown.
Methods: In the present study, we generated neutralization escape mutants and studied the effect of these neutralization escape mutations on human and animal receptor usage as well as on in vitro and in vivo fitness.
Results: Distinct but partially overlapping sets of amino acids were identified that are critical to the binding of MAbs with differential neutralization profiles. We also identified possible interactions between the S1 and S2 domains of the SARS-CoV S glycoprotein. Finally, we showed that escape from neutralization usually attenuates SARS-CoV infection.
Conclusions: These data provide a mechanism for overcoming neutralization escape by use of broadly cross-reactive cocktails of cross-neutralizing MAbs that recognize residues within the receptor-binding domain that are critical for virus replication and virulence.