Background: Neutralizing-antibody (nAb) is the major focus of most ongoing COVID-19 vaccine trials. However, nAb response against SARS-CoV-2, when present, decays rapidly. Given the myriad roles of antibodies in immune responses, it is possible that antibodies could also mediate protection against SARS-CoV-2 via effector mechanisms such as antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC), which we sought to explore here.
Methods: Plasma of 3 uninfected controls and 20 subjects exposed to, or recovering from, SARS-CoV-2 infection were collected from U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa. Immunofluorescence assay was used to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 specific IgG antibodies in the plasma samples. SARS-CoV-2 specific neutralizing capability of these plasmas was assessed with SARS-CoV-2 spike pseudotyped virus. ADCC activity was assessed with a calcein release assay.
Results: SARS-CoV-2 specific IgG antibodies were detected in all COVID-19 subjects studied. All but three COVID-19 subjects contained nAb at high potency (>80% neutralization). Plasma from 19/20 of COVID-19 subjects also demonstrated strong ADCC activity against SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein, including two individuals without nAb against SARS-CoV-2.
Conclusion: Both neutralizing and non-neutralizing COVID-19 plasmas can mediate ADCC. Our findings argue that evaluation of potential vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 should include investigation of the magnitude and durability of ADCC, in addition to nAb.