Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the causative agent for coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pneumonia. Little is known about the kinetics, tissue distribution, cross-reactivity, and neutralization antibody response in patients with COVID-19. Two groups of patients with RT-PCR-confirmed COVID-19 were enrolled in this study: 12 severely ill patients in intensive care units who needed mechanical ventilation and 11 mildly ill patients in isolation wards. Serial clinical samples were collected for laboratory detection. Results showed that most of the severely ill patients had viral shedding in a variety of tissues for 20-40 days after onset of disease (8/12, 66.7%), while the majority of mildly ill patients had viral shedding restricted to the respiratory tract and had no detectable virus RNA 10 days after onset (9/11, 81.8%). Mildly ill patients showed significantly lower IgM response compared with that of the severe group. IgG responses were detected in most patients in both the severe and mild groups at 9 days after onset, and remained at a high level throughout the study. Antibodies cross-reactive to SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 were detected in patients with COVID-19 but not in patients with MERS. High levels of neutralizing antibodies were induced after about 10 days after onset in both severely and mildly ill patients which were higher in the severe group. SARS-CoV-2 pseudotype neutralization test and focus reduction neutralization test with authentic virus showed consistent results. Sera from patients with COVID-19 inhibited SARS-CoV-2 entry. Sera from convalescent patients with SARS or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) did not. Anti-SARS-CoV-2 S and N IgG levels exhibited a moderate correlation with neutralization titers in patients' plasma. This study improves our understanding of immune response in humans after SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Keywords: Adaptive immunity; Infectious disease; Molecular biology; Molecular diagnosis; Virology.