Common coronavirus infections cannot produce antibodies against COVID-19

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Although SARS-CoV-2 has taken the world by storm, it’s not the only coronavirus that can infect humans.

But unlike SARS-CoV-2, common human coronaviruses (HCoVs) generally cause only mild disease.

A new study found that infections with two different HCoVs don’t generate antibodies that effectively cross-react with SARS-CoV-2.

This means prior infection with HCoVs is unlikely to protect against COVID-19 or worsen a SARS-CoV-2 infection through antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE).

The research is published in ACS Infectious Diseases and was conducted by Sebastien Fiedler et al.

Because SARS-CoV-2 shares significant sequence similarity with its HCoV cousins, researchers have wondered if the immune system might recognize the new coronavirus from prior bouts with HCoVs.

This could re-activate memory B cells, causing them to produce antibodies that helped the person overcome previous HCoV infections, and might also help fight COVID-19.

On the other hand, if the antibodies against HCoVs recognize SARS-CoV-2, but not strong enough to generate an immune response, they could cause ADE.

In the study, the team wanted to compare the strength and concentration of antibodies against HCoVs and SARS-CoV-2 in nine recovered COVID-19 patients and three non-COVID-19 patients.

They found that all nine recovered COVID-19 patient’s samples contained moderate amounts of antibodies with high affinity to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

In contrast, none of the non-COVID patients contained high-affinity antibodies for SARS-CoV-2.

All 12 samples contained low amounts of very high-affinity antibodies against two common HCoVs, indicating previous infections.

The team also showed that these antibodies did not bind to SARS-CoV-2.

The results suggest that there is no strong cross-reactivity of antibodies against common HCoVs and SARS-CoV-2, and therefore, no expected protective or adverse effects of antibody cross-reactivity for these coronaviruses.

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