Durable SARS-CoV-2 B cell immunity after mild or severe disease

J Clin Invest. 2021 Apr 1;131(7):e145516. doi: 10.1172/JCI145516.


Multiple studies have shown loss of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2-specific (SARS-CoV-2-specific) antibodies over time after infection, raising concern that humoral immunity against the virus is not durable. If immunity wanes quickly, millions of people may be at risk for reinfection after recovery from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, memory B cells (MBCs) could provide durable humoral immunity even if serum neutralizing antibody titers decline. We performed multidimensional flow cytometric analysis of S protein receptor binding domain-specific (S-RBD-specific) MBCs in cohorts of ambulatory patients with COVID-19 with mild disease (n = 7), and hospitalized patients with moderate to severe disease (n = 7), at a median of 54 days (range, 39-104 days) after symptom onset. We detected S-RBD-specific class-switched MBCs in 13 of 14 participants, failing only in the individual with the lowest plasma levels of anti-S-RBD IgG and neutralizing antibodies. Resting MBCs (rMBCs) made up the largest proportion of S-RBD-specific MBCs in both cohorts. FCRL5, a marker of functional memory on rMBCs, was more dramatically upregulated on S-RBD-specific rMBCs after mild infection than after severe infection. These data indicate that most SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals develop S-RBD-specific, class-switched rMBCs that resemble germinal center-derived B cells induced by effective vaccination against other pathogens, providing evidence for durable B cell-mediated immunity against SARS-CoV-2 after mild or severe disease.

Keywords: Adaptive immunity; Beta cells; Immunology; Infectious disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / blood
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Binding Sites / immunology
  • COVID-19 / immunology*
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Immunoglobulin Class Switching
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2* / immunology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / chemistry
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / immunology
  • Time Factors


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2