Clin Exp Immunol - (-) - [2023-04-18; online 2023-04-18]
Antigen-specific class-switched antibodies are detected at the same time or even before IgM in serum of non-vaccinated individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2. These derive from the first wave of plasmablasts formed. The phenotype and specificity of plasmablasts can reveal information about early B cell activation. Here we have analyzed B cells and plasmablasts circulating in blood of COVID-19 patients not previously exposed to SARS-CoV-2 during and after disease. We find that during infection with the original Wuhan strain, plasmablasts in blood produce IgA1, IgG1 and IgM, and that most express CCR10 and integrin β1, only some integrin β7, while the majority lack CCR9. Plasmablast-secreted antibodies are reactive to the Spike (S) and Nucleocapsid (N) proteins of the Wuhan strain as well as later variants of concern, but also bind S proteins from endemic and non-circulating betacoronaviruses. In contrast, after recovery, antibodies produced from memory B cells target variants of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 but compared to previously non-infected individuals do not show increased binding to endemic coronaviruses. This suggests that the early antibody response to a large extent stems from pre-existing cross-reactive class-switched memory B cells, but that that although newly formed memory cells target the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus the numbers of broadly cross-reactive memory B cells do not increase extensively. The observations give insight into the role of pre-existing memory B cells in early antibody responses to novel pathogens and may explain why class-switched antibodies are detected early in serum of COVID-19 patients.