Preexisting antibodies to endemic coronaviruses (CoV) that cross-react with SARS-CoV-2 have the potential to influence the antibody response to COVID-19 vaccination and infection for better or worse. In this observational study of mucosal and systemic humoral immunity in acutely infected, convalescent, and vaccinated subjects, we tested for cross-reactivity against endemic CoV spike (S) protein at subdomain resolution. Elevated responses, particularly to the β-CoV OC43, were observed in all natural infection cohorts tested and were correlated with the response to SARS-CoV-2. The kinetics of this response and isotypes involved suggest that infection boosts preexisting antibody lineages raised against prior endemic CoV exposure that cross-react. While further research is needed to discern whether this recalled response is desirable or detrimental, the boosted antibodies principally targeted the better-conserved S2 subdomain of the viral spike and were not associated with neutralization activity. In contrast, vaccination with a stabilized spike mRNA vaccine did not robustly boost cross-reactive antibodies, suggesting differing antigenicity and immunogenicity. In sum, this study provides evidence that antibodies targeting endemic CoV are robustly boosted in response to SARS-CoV-2 infection but not to vaccination with stabilized S, and that depending on conformation or other factors, the S2 subdomain of the spike protein triggers a rapidly recalled, IgG-dominated response that lacks neutralization activity.
Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; antibodies; conformation; epitope; human; immunology; infectious disease; inflammation; microbiology; neutralization; vaccine.