Neutralization of viruses with European, South African, and United States SARS-CoV-2 variant spike proteins by convalescent sera and BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine-elicited antibodies

bioRxiv. 2021 Feb 7;2021.02.05.430003. doi: 10.1101/2021.02.05.430003. Preprint

Abstract

The increasing prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 variants with mutations in the spike protein has raised concerns that recovered individuals may not be protected from reinfection and that current vaccines will become less effective. The B.1.1.7 isolate identified in the United Kingdom and B.1.351 isolate identified in the Republic of South Africa encode spike proteins with multiple mutations in the S1 and S2 subunits. In addition, variants have been identified in Columbus, Ohio (COH.20G/677H), Europe (20A.EU2) and in domesticated minks. Analysis by antibody neutralization of pseudotyped viruses showed that convalescent sera from patients infected prior to the emergence of the variant viruses neutralized viruses with the B.1.1.7, B.1.351, COH.20G/677H Columbus Ohio, 20A.EU2 Europe and mink cluster 5 spike proteins with only a minor decrease in titer compared to that of the earlier D614G spike protein. Serum specimens from individuals vaccinated with the BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine neutralized D614G virus with titers that were on average 7-fold greater than convalescent sera. Vaccine elicited antibodies neutralized virus with the B.1.1.7 spike protein with titers similar to D614G virus and neutralized virus with the B.1.351 spike with, on average, a 3-fold reduction in titer (1:500), a titer that was still higher than the average titer with which convalescent sera neutralized D614G (1:139). The reduction in titer was attributable to the E484K mutation in the RBD. The B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 viruses were not more infectious than D614G on ACE2.293T cells in vitro but N501Y, an ACE2 contacting residue present in the B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and COH.20G/677H spike proteins caused higher affinity binding to ACE2, likely contributing to their increased transmissibility. These findings suggest that antibodies elicited by primary infection and by the BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine are likely to maintain protective efficacy against B.1.1.7 and most other variants but that the partial resistance of virus with the B.1.351 spike protein could render some individuals less well protected, supporting a rationale for the development of modified vaccines containing E484K.

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