Memory B cells (MBCs) can provide a recall response able to supplement waning antibodies (Abs) with an affinity-matured response better able to neutralize variant viruses. We studied a cohort of elderly care home residents and younger staff (median age of 87 years and 56 years, respectively), who had survived COVID-19 outbreaks with only mild or asymptomatic infection. The cohort was selected because of its high proportion of individuals who had lost neutralizing antibodies (nAbs), thus allowing us to specifically investigate the reserve immunity from SARS-CoV-2–specific MBCs in this setting. Class-switched spike and receptor-binding domain (RBD) tetramer–binding MBCs persisted 5 months after mild or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, irrespective of age. The majority of spike- and RBD-specific MBCs had a classical phenotype, but we found that activated MBCs, indicating possible ongoing antigenic stimulation or inflammation, were expanded in the elderly group. Spike- and RBD-specific MBCs remained detectable in the majority of individuals who had lost nAbs, although at lower frequencies and with a reduced IgG/IgA isotype ratio. Functional spike-, S1 subunit of the spike protein– (S1-), and RBD-specific recall was also detectable by enzyme-linked immune absorbent spot (ELISPOT) assay in some individuals who had lost nAbs, but was significantly impaired in the elderly. Our findings demonstrate that a reserve of SARS-CoV-2–specific MBCs persists beyond the loss of nAbs but highlight the need for careful monitoring of functional defects in spike- and RBD-specific B cell immunity in the elderly.
Anna Jeffery-Smith, Alice R. Burton, Sabela Lens, Chloe Rees-Spear, Jessica Davies, Monika Patel, Robin Gopal, Luke Muir, Felicity Aiano, Katie J. Doores, J. Yimmy Chow, Shamez N. Ladhani, Maria Zambon, Laura E. McCoy, Mala K. Maini