Which antibodies are most effective against the coronavirus?

22 September 2020• PRESSRELEASE

Researchers Indu Khatri, Frank Staal and Jacques van Dongen of Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) wrote a scientific opinion in Frontiers in Immunology on the coronavirus and its characteristic 'spike protein'. They predict which antibodies probably offer the best protection against the virus and which vaccines can contribute to it.

In Frontiers in Immunology, researchers from the LUMC Department of Immunology describe how the human immune system responds to the coronavirus. The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is a new microorganism. Therefore, according to the researchers, a well-functioning immune system is needed that quickly and efficiently builds up antibodies against the virus. A process that the researchers are currently further mapping out in two joint LUMC studies.

Unusually powerful

Before their publication, LUMC researchers analyzed published data in depth with bioinformatic tools. They found that there is an unusually powerful binding of the viral spike protein of the virus to the human mucous membranes. It seems that the current attachment plane of this viral spike protein has remained unchanged since the first outbreak in China in November 2019. According to co-author Jacques van Dongen, it binds almost "perfectly" - with no less than eighteen contact points - to the human ACE2 protein, which is very unusual in nature.

Most suitable antibodies and vaccines

From this knowledge about the viral protein and its role, it follows, according to immunologists, that our immune system has to produce so-called neutralizing antibodies, which preferably directly block the contact between the spike protein and the human ACE2 molecule.

However, the contact surface is unusually large and the spike protein has a high binding force. Therefore, the researchers conclude that an infected or vaccinated person should preferably produce several (different) antibodies, which are directed against the different components in the attachment surface of the viral spike protein. In their article the researchers predict which type of antibodies and vaccines will be most effective.

Transfer between humans and animals

Finally, the researchers focus on the issue of transfer between humans and animals. They looked at which 'classic' pets or domesticated animals have the same ACE2 protein as humans. The ACE2 protein of cats appears to be very similar to that of humans.

Further research at LUMC

In order to further investigate the production of the right antibodies by immune cells, LUMC performs cellular immune monitoring analyses in the joint BEAT-COVID1 and SARS-Response studies. This is made possible by investments in a new spectral flow cytometer in the Flow Core Facility (FCF) of the LUMC.

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