Infectious Diseases, Rheumatology and Immunology

Immunity to common coronaviruses may promote rapid development of SARS-CoV-2-specific immunity

Dr. Dr. Irene A. Abela

Universität Zürich
Universitätsspital Zürich

Dr. Chloé Pasin

Universität Zürich
Universitätsspital Zürich

Magdalena Schwarzmüller

Universität Zürich

Different human coronaviruses (HCoV) caused colds and other diseases in humans long before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Could pre-existing immune responses to closely related circulating human coronaviruses cross-react with SARS-CoV-2? Irene Abela, Chloé Pasin und Magdalena Schwarzmüller investigated this question and aimed to find out if pre-existing HCoV immunity can protect against an infection with SARS-CoV-2 or against severe disease. 

The three awardees developed a novel serology assay to evaluate the diversity of antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 and HCoV. Utilizing a computational framework, they identified past and current SARS-CoV-2 infections. Based on the evaluation of antibody responses in over 1200 pre-pandemic and pandemic samples they developed a statistical strategy to predict whether an individual has neutralizing plasma antibodies that can prevent an infection with SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, the scientists investigated whether pre-existing HCoV antibodies influence the development of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and impact disease severity.

In an interdisciplinary approach, they found that individuals with high pre-existing immunity to HCoV are more likely to develop stronger SARS-CoV-2 specific antibody responses upon SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, individuals with high levels of antibodies against HCoV were less likely to require hospitalization. The young scientists demonstrated how prior immunity to circulating HCoV can protect against SARS-CoV-2 acquisition, promote the development of specific antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, and influence disease severity. 

In conclusion, these results suggest that immunity to HCoV may promote the rapid development of SARS-CoV-2-specific immunity, thereby emphasizing the importance of exploring cross-protective responses for comprehensive coronavirus prevention.

Multifactorial seroprofiling dissects the contribution of pre-existing human coronaviruses responses to SARS-CoV-2 immunity. Irene A Abela*, Chloé Pasin*, Magdalena Schwarzmüller*, Selina Epp, Michèle E Sickmann, Merle M Schanz, Peter Rusert, Jacqueline Weber, Stefan Schmutz, Annette Audigé, Liridona Maliqi, Annika Hunziker, Maria C Hesselman, Cyrille R Niklaus, Jochen Gottschalk, Eméry Schindler, Alexander Wepf, Urs Karrer, Aline Wolfensberger, Silvana K Rampini, Patrick M Meyer Sauteur, Christoph Berger, Michael Huber, Jürg Böni, Dominique L Braun, Maddalena Marconato, Markus G Manz, Beat M Frey, Huldrych F Günthard, Roger D Kouyos, Alexandra Trkola. Nat Commun. 2021 Nov 18;12(1):6703
* Contributed equally.