Background: Mucosal immunity, including secretory IgA (sIgA), plays an important role in early defenses against respiratory pathogens. Salivary testing, the most convenient way to measure sIgA, has been used to characterize mucosal immune responses to many viral infections including SARS, MERS, influenza, HIV, and RSV. However, its role has not yet been characterized in the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we report development and validation of a rapid immunoassay for measuring salivary IgA against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and report quantitative results in both pre-COVID-19 and muco-converted subjects.
Methods: We developed and refined a specific test for salivary IgA against SARS-CoV-2 on the Brevitest platform, a rapid immunoassay system designed for point-of-care use. A qualitative test was validated as per FDA guidelines with saliva obtained from subjects prior to the emergence of COVID-19, and from PCR-confirmed COVID-19 patients. We also generated a quantitative measure of anti-SARS-CoV-2 salivary IgA. Time taken for saliva self-collection was measured and its ease-of-use assessed.
Results: We successfully validated a qualitative salivary assay for SARS-CoV-2 IgA antibodies, with positive and negative predictive values of 92% and 97%, respectively, and no observable cross-reactivity with any of seven potential confounders. Pre-COVID-19 saliva samples showed an 8-fold range of IgA concentrations, suggesting a broad continuum of natural antibody resistance against the novel virus, though at levels lower than that observed in COVID-19 PCR-confirmed subjects. Samples from muco-positive subjects also shown a ~9-fold variation in salivary IgA levels, with elevated salivary IgA observed beyond three months after onset of symptoms. We observed a correlation (r=0.4405) between salivary IgA levels and COVID-19 disease severity. In anecdotal observations, we observed individuals who exhibited antibodies early in the course of their disease, contemporaneously with a positive PCR test, as well as individuals who muco-converted despite no known direct exposure to a COVID-19 patient, no symptoms, and negative molecular and/or serum antibody tests. Salivary collection took 5-10 minutes, and was reported as being easy (mean of 1.1 on a scale of 1 to 10).
Implications: Mucosal immunity, including secretory IgA, plays an important role in host defense against respiratory pathogens, and our early data suggest it may do so in COVID-19. Salivary IgA, an accessible marker of mucosal immunity, may be a useful indicator of several key parameters including individual and community immune response, disease severity, clinical risk, and herd immunity. The non-invasive nature and ease of saliva collection facilitates its potential use as a biomarker for ongoing patient assessment and management, as well as a community surveillance tool. By measuring mucosal immune responses directly and systemic immune responses indirectly, salivary IgA could be useful in developing and deploying a vaccine(s) against COVID-19. Quantitative IgA assessment could also potentially serve as a tool to segment the population into different risk categories and inform individual and collective decisions relating to appropriate activities and vaccine prioritization/delivery. These data reinforce the importance of further investigation into the role of mucosal immunity and IgA in host responses against COVID-19.