Variable susceptibility of intestinal organoid-derived monolayers to SARS-CoV-2 infection
Gastrointestinal effects associated with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) are highly variable for reasons that are not understood. In this study, we used intestinal organoid-derived cultures differentiated from primary human specimens as a model to examine interindividual variability. Infection of intestinal organoids derived from different donors with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) resulted in orders of magnitude differences in virus replication in small intestinal and colonic organoid-derived monolayers. Susceptibility to infection correlated with angiotensin I converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) expression level and was independent of donor demographic or clinical features. ACE2 transcript levels in cell culture matched the amount of ACE2 in primary tissue, indicating that this feature of the intestinal epithelium is retained in the organoids. Longitudinal transcriptomics of organoid-derived monolayers identified a delayed yet robust interferon signature, the magnitude of which corresponded to the degree of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Interestingly, virus with the Omicron variant spike (S) protein infected the organoids with the highest infectivity, suggesting increased tropism of the virus for intestinal tissue. These results suggest that heterogeneity in SARS-CoV-2 replication in intestinal tissues results from differences in ACE2 levels, which may underlie variable patient outcomes.
High-Titer Neutralizing Antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variant Induced by Alhydroxyquim-II-Adjuvanted Trimeric Spike Antigens
Global control of COVID-19 will require the deployment of vaccines capable of inducing long-term protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2 variants. In this report, we describe an adjuvanted subunit candidate vaccine that affords elevated, sustained, and cross-variant SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) in multiple animal models. Alhydroxiquim-II is a Toll-Like Receptor (TLR) 7/8 small-molecule agonist chemisorbed on aluminum hydroxide (Alhydrogel). Vaccination with Alhydroxiquim-II combined with a stabilized, trimeric form of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (termed CoVac-II) resulted in high-titer NAbs in mice, with no decay in responses over an 8-month period. NAbs from sera of CoVac-II-immunized mice, horses and rabbits were broadly neutralizing against SARS-CoV-2 variants. Boosting long-term CoVac-II-immunized mice with adjuvanted spike protein from the Beta variant markedly increased levels of NAb titers against multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants; notably, high titers against the Delta variant were observed. These data strongly support the clinical assessment of Alhydroxiquim-II-adjuvanted spike proteins to protect against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. IMPORTANCE There is an urgent need for next-generation COVID-19 vaccines that are safe, demonstrate high protective efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 variants and can be manufactured at scale. We describe a vaccine candidate (CoVac-II) that is based on stabilized, trimeric spike antigen produced in an optimized, scalable and chemically defined production process. CoVac-II demonstrates strong and persistent immunity after vaccination of mice, and is highly immunogenic in multiple animal models, including rabbits and horses. We further show that prior immunity can be boosted using a recombinant spike antigen from the Beta variant; importantly, plasma from boosted mice effectively neutralize multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants in vitro, including Delta. The strong humoral and Th1-biased immunogenicity of CoVac-II is driven by use of Alhydroxiquim-II (AHQ-II), the first adjuvant in an authorized vaccine that acts through the dual Toll-like receptor (TLR)7 and TLR8 pathways, as part of the Covaxin vaccine. Our data suggest AHQ-II/spike protein combinations could constitute safe, affordable, and mass-manufacturable COVID-19 vaccines for global distribution.
The NSP14/NSP10 RNA repair complex as a Pan-coronavirus therapeutic target
The risk of zoonotic coronavirus spillover into the human population, as highlighted by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, demands the development of pan-coronavirus antivirals. The efficacy of existing antiviral ribonucleoside/ribonucleotide analogs, such as remdesivir, is decreased by the viral proofreading exonuclease NSP14-NSP10 complex. Here, using a novel assay and in silico modeling and screening, we identified NSP14-NSP10 inhibitors that increase remdesivir'sÂ potency. A model compound, sofalcone, both inhibits the exonuclease activity of SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV in vitro, and synergistically enhances the antiviral effect of remdesivir, suppressing the replication of SARS-CoV-2 and the related human coronavirus OC43. The validation of top hits from our primary screenings using cellular systems provides proof-of-concept for the NSP14 complex as a therapeutic target.
Neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 Variants by mRNA and Adenoviral Vector Vaccine-Elicited Antibodies
The increasing prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 variants has raised concerns regarding possible decreases in vaccine effectiveness. Here, neutralizing antibody titers elicited by mRNA-based and adenoviral vector-based vaccines against variant pseudotyped viruses were measured. BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273-elicited antibodies showed modest neutralization resistance against Beta, Delta, Delta plus and Lambda variants whereas Ad26.COV2.S-elicited antibodies from a significant fraction of vaccinated individuals had less neutralizing titer (IC50 <50). The data underscore the importance of surveillance for breakthrough infections that result in severe COVID-19 and suggest a potential benefit by second immunization following Ad26.COV2.S to increase protection from current and future variants.
High-titer neutralization of Mu and C.1.2 SARS-CoV-2 variants by vaccine-elicited antibodies of previously infected individuals
Recently identified severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants Mu and C.1.2 have spike proteins with mutations that may confer resistance to natural and vaccine-elicited antibodies. Analysis of neutralizing antibody titers in the sera of vaccinated individuals without previous history of infection and from convalescent individuals show partial resistance of the viruses. In contrast, sera from individuals with a previous history of SARS-CoV-2 infection who were subsequently vaccinated neutralize variants with titers 4- to 11-fold higher, providing a rationale for vaccination of individuals with previous infection. The heavily mutated C.1.2 spike is the most antibody neutralization-resistant spike to date; however, the avidity of C.1.2 spike protein for angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is low. This finding suggests that the virus evolved to escape the humoral response but has a decrease in fitness, suggesting that it may cause milder disease or be less transmissible. It may be difficult for the spike protein to evolve to escape neutralizing antibodies while maintaining high affinity for ACE2.
Partial Resistance of SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variants to Vaccine-elicited Antibodies and Convalescent sera
Highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants identified in India and designated B.1.617, Kappa (B.1.617.1), Delta (B.1.617.2), B.1.618 and B.1.36.29, contain spike mutations L452R, T478K, E484K, E484Q and N440K located within the spike receptor binding domain and thus could contribute to increased transmissibility and potentially allow re-infection or cause resistance to vaccine-elicited antibody. To address these issues, we used lentiviruses pseudotyped by variant spikes to measure their neutralization by convalescent sera, vaccine-elicited and Regeneron therapeutic antibodies and ACE2 affinity. Convalescent sera and vaccine-elicited antibodies neutralized viruses with Delta spike with 2-5-fold decrease in titer in different donors. Regeneron antibody cocktail neutralized virus with the Delta spike with a 2.6-fold decrease in titer. Neutralization resistance to serum antibodies and monoclonal antibodies was mediated by L452R mutation. These relatively modest decreases in antibody neutralization titer for viruses with variant spike proteins suggest that current vaccines will remain protective against the family of Delta variants.
Comparison of Neutralizing Antibody Titers Elicited by mRNA and Adenoviral Vector Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 Variants [PrePrint]
The increasing prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 variants has raised concerns regarding possible decreases in vaccine efficacy. Here, neutralizing antibody titers elicited by mRNA-based and an adenoviral vector-based vaccine against variant pseudotyped viruses were compared. BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273-elicited antibodies showed modest neutralization resistance against Beta, Delta, Delta plus and Lambda variants whereas Ad26.COV2.S-elicited antibodies from a significant fraction of vaccinated individuals were of low neutralizing titer (IC 50 <50). The data underscore the importance of surveillance for breakthrough infections that result in severe COVID-19 and suggest the benefit of a second immunization following Ad26.COV2.S to increase protection against the variants.
B.1.526 SARS-CoV-2 Variants Identified in New York City are Neutralized by Vaccine-Elicited and Therapeutic Monoclonal Antibodies
DNA sequence analysis recently identified the novel SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.526 that is spreading at an alarming rate in the New York City area. Two versions of the variant were identified, both with the prevalent D614G mutation in the spike protein, together with four novel point mutations and with an E484K or S477N mutation in the receptor-binding domain, raising concerns of possible resistance to vaccine-elicited and therapeutic antibodies. We report that convalescent-phase sera and vaccine-elicited antibodies retain full neutralizing titer against the S477N B.1.526 variant and neutralize the E484K version with a modest 3.5-fold decrease in titer compared to D614G. The E484K version was neutralized with a 12-fold decrease in titer by the REGN10933 monoclonal antibody, but the combination cocktail with REGN10987 was fully active. The findings suggest that current vaccines and Regeneron therapeutic monoclonal antibodies will remain protective against the B.1.526 variants. The findings further support the value of widespread vaccination. IMPORTANCE A novel SARS-CoV-2 variant termed B.1.526 was recently identified in New York City and has been found to be spreading at an alarming rate. The variant has mutations in its spike protein that might allow it to escape neutralization by vaccine-elicited antibodies and might cause monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19 to be less successful. We report here that these fears are not substantiated; convalescent-phase sera and vaccine-elicited antibodies neutralized the B.1.526 variant. One of the Regeneron therapeutic monoclonal antibodies was less effective against the B.1.526 (E484K) variant but the two-antibody combination cocktail was fully active. The findings should assuage concerns that current vaccines will be ineffective against the B.1.526 (E484K) variant and suggest the importance of continued widespread vaccination.
SARS-CoV-2 Infects Syncytiotrophoblast and Activates Inflammatory Responses in the Placenta [PrePrint]
SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy leads to an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. Although the placenta itself can be a target of virus infection, most neonates are virus free and are born healthy or recover quickly. Here, we investigated the impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection on the placenta from a cohort of women who were infected late during pregnancy and had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 by qRT-PCR at delivery. SARS-CoV-2 genomic and subgenomic RNA was detected in 23 out of 55 placentas (41%). Three placentas with high virus content were obtained from mothers who presented with severe COVID-19 and whose pregnancies resulted in adverse outcomes for the fetuses, including intrauterine fetal demise, stillbirth, and a preterm delivered baby still in newborn intensive care. Examination of the placental samples with high virus content showed efficient SARS-CoV-2 infection, using RNA in situ hybridization to detect genomic and replicating viral RNA, and immunohistochemistry to detect SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein. Infection was restricted to syncytiotrophoblast cells that envelope the fetal chorionic villi and are in direct contact with maternal blood. The infected placentas displayed massive infiltration of maternal immune cells including macrophages into intervillous spaces, potentially contributing to inflammation of the tissue. Ex vivo infection of placental cultures with SARS-CoV-2 or with SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein pseudotyped lentivirus targeted mostly syncytiotrophoblast and, to a lesser extent, endothelial cells. Infection was reduced by using blocking antibodies against ACE2 and against Neuropilin 1, suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 may utilize alternative receptors for entry into placental cells.
B cell genomics behind cross-neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 variants and SARS-CoV
Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are a focus in vaccine and therapeutic design to counteract severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and its variants. Here, we combined B cell sorting with single-cell VDJ and RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) and mAb structures to characterize B cell responses against SARS-CoV-2. We show that the SARS-CoV-2-specific B cell repertoire consists of transcriptionally distinct B cell populations with cells producing potently neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) localized in two clusters that resemble memory and activated B cells. Cryo-electron microscopy structures of selected nAbs from these two clusters complexed with SARS-CoV-2 spike trimers show recognition of various receptor-binding domain (RBD) epitopes. One of these mAbs, BG10-19, locks the spike trimer in a closed conformation to potently neutralize SARS-CoV-2, the recently arising mutants B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, and SARS-CoV and cross-reacts with heterologous RBDs. Together, our results characterize transcriptional differences among SARS-CoV-2-specific B cells and uncover cross-neutralizing Ab targets that will inform immunogen and therapeutic design against coronaviruses.