A considerable fraction of B cells recognize severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) with germline-encoded elements of their B cell receptor, resulting in the production of neutralizing and nonneutralizing antibodies. We found that antibody sequences from different discovery cohorts shared biochemical properties and could be retrieved across validation cohorts, confirming the stereotyped character of this naive response in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). While neutralizing antibody sequences were found independently of disease severity, in line with serological data, individual nonneutralizing antibody sequences were associated with fatal clinical courses, suggesting detrimental effects of these antibodies. We mined 200 immune repertoires from healthy individuals and 500 repertoires from patients with blood or solid cancers — all acquired prior to the pandemic — for SARS-CoV-2 antibody sequences. While the largely unmutated B cell rearrangements occurred in a substantial fraction of immune repertoires from young and healthy individuals, these sequences were less likely to be found in individuals over 60 years of age and in those with cancer. This reflects B cell repertoire restriction in aging and cancer, and may to a certain extent explain the different clinical courses of COVID-19 observed in these risk groups. Future studies will have to address if this stereotyped B cell response to SARS-CoV-2 emerging from unmutated antibody rearrangements will create long-lived memory.
Lisa Paschold, Donjete Simnica, Edith Willscher, Maria J.G.T. Vehreschild, Jochen Dutzmann, Daniel G. Sedding, Christoph Schultheiß, Mascha Binder