Evaluation of cell-based and surrogate SARS-CoV-2 neutralization assays

J Clin Microbiol. 2021 Jul 21;JCM0052721. doi: 10.1128/JCM.00527-21. Online ahead of print.


Determinants of protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2 infection require the development of well-standardized, reproducible antibody assays. This need has led to the emergence of a variety of neutralization assays. Head-to-head evaluation of different SARS-CoV-2 neutralization platforms could facilitate comparisons across studies and laboratories. Five neutralization assays were compared using forty plasma samples from convalescent individuals with mild-to-moderate COVID-19: four cell-based systems using either live recombinant SARS-CoV-2 or pseudotyped viral particles created with lentivirus (LV) or vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) packaging and one surrogate ELISA-based test that measures inhibition of the spike protein receptor binding domain (RBD) binding its receptor, human angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (hACE2). Vero, Vero E6, HEK293T expressing hACE2, and TZM-bl cells expressing hACE2 and transmembrane serine protease 2 were tested. All cell-based assays showed 50% neutralizing dilution (ND50) geometric mean titers (GMTs) that were highly correlated (Pearson r = 0.81-0.89) and ranged within 3.4-fold. The live-virus assay and LV-pseudovirus assays with HEK293T/hACE2 cells showed very similar mean titers: 141 and 178, respectively. ND50 titers positively correlated with plasma IgG targeting SARS-CoV-2 spike and RBD (r = 0.63-0.89), but moderately correlated with nucleoprotein IgG (r = 0.46-0.73). ND80 GMTs mirrored ND50 data and showed similar correlation between assays and with IgG concentrations. The VSV-pseudovirus assay and LV-pseudovirus assay with HEK293T/hACE2 cells in low and high-throughput versions were calibrated against the WHO SARS-CoV-2 IgG standard. High concordance between the outcomes of cell-based assays with live and pseudotyped virions enables valid cross-study comparison using these platforms. 249.