Publication date: Jun 20, 2023
Understanding the mechanisms of antibody-mediated neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 is critical in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on previous reports of antibody catalysis, we investigated the proteolysis of spike (S) by antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) and its contribution to viral neutralization. Quenched fluorescent peptides were designed based on S epitopes to sensitively detect antibody-mediated proteolysis. We observed epitope cleavage by CCP from different donors which persisted when plasma was heat-treated or when IgG was isolated from plasma. Further, purified CCP antibodies proteolyzed recombinant S domains, as well as authentic viral S. Cleavage of S variants suggests CCP antibody-mediated proteolysis is a durable phenomenon despite antigenic drift. We differentiated viral neutralization occurring via direct interference with receptor binding from that occurring by antibody-mediated proteolysis, demonstrating that antibody catalysis enhanced neutralization. These results suggest that antibody-catalyzed damage of S is an immunologically relevant function of neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.
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