The use of nanobodies in a sensitive ELISA test for SARS-CoV-2 Spike 1 protein

R Soc Open Sci. 2021 Sep 30;8(9):211016. doi: 10.1098/rsos.211016. eCollection 2021 Sep.


Detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) antigens in the fluid has important uses in biotechnology, and is integral to many point-of-care SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics. Sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) are a sensitive, well-established method of measuring antigens in solutions. They use one ligand to capture and the other ligand to detect the target analyte. Detection is commonly achieved using colorimetric readout obtained upon the reaction of a substrate with HRP-conjugated secondary ligand. Nanobodies, the VHH domain of camelid antibodies, have expanded the repertoire of molecules used in antigen detection. Nanobodies' high affinity for target antigens, their compact structure, their high stability and ease of production has driven research into their use as diagnostic reagents. Guided by a structural understanding of epitopes on the receptor-binding domain of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein, we investigated various combinations of engineered nanobodies in a sandwich ELISA to detect the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. We have identified an optimal combination of nanobodies. These were selectively functionalized to further improve antigen capture, enabling the measurement of sub-picomolar amounts of SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein in solution. With this combination, the routine detection limit in samples inactivated by heat and detergent corresponded to less than seven focus-forming units of infectious SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords: ELISA; SARS-CoV-2; Spike; nanobody; site-specific conjugation.

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5641729