An Antigenic Space Framework for Understanding Antibody Escape of SARS-CoV-2 Variants

Viruses. 2021 Oct 6;13(10):2009. doi: 10.3390/v13102009.


The evolution of mutations in SARS-CoV-2 at antigenic sites that impact neutralizing antibody responses in humans poses a risk to immunity developed through vaccination and natural infection. The highly successful RNA-based vaccines have enabled rapid vaccine updates that incorporate mutations from current variants of concern (VOCs). It is therefore important to anticipate future antigenic mutations as the virus navigates the heterogeneous global landscape of host immunity. Toward this goal, we survey epitope-paratope interfaces of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies to map an antigenic space that captures the role of each spike protein residue within the polyclonal antibody response directed against the ACE2-receptor binding domain (RBD) or the N-terminal domain (NTD). In particular, the antigenic space map builds on recently published epitope definitions by annotating epitope overlap and orthogonality at the residue level. We employ the antigenic space map as a framework to understand how mutations on nine major variants contribute to each variant's evasion of neutralizing antibodies. Further, we identify constellations of mutations that span the orthogonal epitope regions of the RBD and NTD on the variants with the greatest antibody escape. Finally, we apply the antigenic space map to predict which regions of antigenic space-should they mutate-may be most likely to complementarily augment antibody evasion for the most evasive and transmissible VOCs.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; VOC; antibody; antigenic drift; epitope; immune escape; paratope; variant.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 / metabolism
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / immunology*
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology*
  • Binding Sites, Antibody / immunology*
  • COVID-19 / immunology
  • Epitopes / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Evasion / immunology*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology*
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / genetics
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / immunology
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / metabolism


  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Epitopes
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • ACE2 protein, human
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2