Long-Term Persistence of Spike Antibody and Predictive Modeling of Antibody Dynamics Following Infection with SARS-CoV-2


Background Antibodies to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) have been shown to neutralize the virus in-vitro. Similarly, animal challenge models suggest that neutralizing antibodies isolated from SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals prevent against disease upon re-exposure to the virus. Understanding the nature and duration of the antibody response following SARS-CoV-2 infection is therefore critically important.Methods Between April and October 2020 we undertook a prospective cohort study of 3555 healthcare workers in order to elucidate the duration and dynamics of antibody responses following infection with SARS-CoV-2. After a formal performance evaluation against 169 PCR confirmed cases and negative controls, the Meso-Scale Discovery assay was used to quantify in parallel, antibody titers to the SARS-CoV-2 nucleoprotein (N), spike (S) protein and the receptor-binding-domain (RBD) of the S-protein. All seropositive participants were followed up monthly for a maximum of 7 months; those participants that were symptomatic, with known dates of symptom-onset, seropositive by the MSD assay and who provided 2 or more monthly samples were included in the analysis. Survival analysis was used to determine the proportion of sero-reversion (switching from positive to negative) from the raw data. In order to predict long-term antibody dynamics, two hierarchical longitudinal Gamma models were implemented to provide predictions for the lower bound (continuous antibody decay to zero, “Gamma-decay”) and upper bound (decay-to-plateau due to long lived plasma cells, “Gamma-plateau”) long-term antibody titers.Results A total of 1163 samples were provided from 349 of 3555 recruited participants who were symptomatic, seropositive by the MSD assay, and were followed up with 2 or more monthly samples. At 200 days post symptom onset, 99% of participants had detectable S-antibody whereas only 75% of participants had detectable N-antibody. Even under our most pessimistic assumption of persistent negative exponential decay, the S-antibody was predicted to remain detectable in 95% of participants until 465 days [95% CI 370-575] after symptom onset. Under the Gamma-plateau model, the entire posterior distribution of S-antibody titers at plateau remained above the threshold for detection indefinitely. Surrogate neutralization assays demonstrated a strong positive correlation between antibody titers to the S-protein and blocking of the ACE-2 receptor in-vitro [R2=0.72, p<0.001]. By contrast, the N-antibody waned rapidly with a half-life of 60 days [95% CI 52-68].Discussion This study has demonstrated persistence of the spike antibody in 99% of participants at 200 days following SARS-CoV-2 symptoms and rapid decay of the nucleoprotein antibody. Diagnostic tests or studies that rely on the N-antibody as a measure of seroprevalence must be interpreted with caution. Our lowest bound prediction for duration of the spike antibody was 465 days and our upper bound predicted spike antibody to remain indefinitely in line with the long-term seropositivity reported for SARS-CoV infection. The long-term persistence of the S-antibody, together with the strong positive correlation between the S-antibody and viral surrogate neutralization in-vitro, has important implications for the duration of functional immunity following SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Caroline Colijn
Caroline Colijn
Canada 150 Chair, SFU