The role of immune responses to previously seen endemic coronavirus epitopes in severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection and disease progression has not yet been determined. Here, we show that a key characteristic of fatal coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outcomes is that the immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is enriched for antibodies directed against epitopes shared with endemic beta-coronaviruses, and has a lower proportion of antibodies targeting the more protective variable regions of the spike. The magnitude of antibody responses to the SARS-CoV-2 full-length spike protein, its domains and subunits, and the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid also correlated strongly with responses to the endemic beta-coronavirus spike proteins in individuals admitted to intensive care units (ICU) with fatal COVID-19 outcomes, but not in individuals with non-fatal outcomes. This correlation was found to be due to the antibody response directed at the S2 subunit of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which has the highest degree of conservation between the beta-coronavirus spike proteins. Intriguingly, antibody responses to the less cross-reactive SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid were not significantly different in individuals who were admitted to ICU with fatal and non-fatal outcomes, suggesting an antibody profile in individuals with fatal outcomes consistent with an original antigenic sin type-response.

Original publication

DOI

10.1172/jci.insight.156372

Type

Journal article

Journal

JCI insight

Publication Date

24/05/2022

Addresses

Nuffield Department of Medicine, The University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.