Antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) of SARS-CoV-2 infection in recovered COVID-19 patients: studies based on cellular and structural biology analysis
Antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) has been reported in several virus infections including dengue fever virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus infection. To study whether ADE is involved in COVID-19 infections, in vitro pseudotyped SARS-CoV-2 entry into Raji cells, K562 cells, and primary B cells mediated by plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients were employed as models. The enhancement of SARS-CoV-2 entry into cells was more commonly detected in plasma from severely-affected elderly patients with high titers of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein-specific antibodies. Cellular entry was mediated via the engagement of FcγRII receptor through virus-cell membrane fusion, but not by endocytosis. Peptide array scanning analyses showed that antibodies which promote SARS-CoV-2 infection targeted the variable regions of the RBD domain. To further characterize the association between the spike-specific antibody and ADE, an RBD-specific monoclonal antibody (7F3) was isolated from a recovered patient, which potently inhibited SARS-Cov-2 infection of ACE-2 expressing cells and also mediated ADE in Raji cells. Site-directed mutagenesis the spike RBD domain reduced the neutralization activity of 7F3, but did not abolish its binding to the RBD domain. Structural analysis using cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM) revealed that 7F3 binds to spike proteins at a shift-angled pattern with one “up” and two “down” RBDs, resulting in partial overlapping with the receptor binding motif (RBM), while a neutralizing monoclonal antibody that lacked ADE activity binds to spike proteins with three “up” RBDs, resulting in complete overlapping with RBM. Our results revealed that ADE mediated by SARS-CoV-2 spike-specific antibodies could result from binding to the receptor in slightly different pattern from antibodies mediating neutralizations. Studies on ADE using antibodies from recovered patients via cell biology and structural biology technology could be of use for developing novel therapeutic and preventive measures for control of COVID-19 infection.