SARS-CoV-2 Serologic Assays in Control and Unknown Populations Demonstrate the Necessity of Virus Neutralization Testing

Rathe JA, Hemann EA, Eggenberger J, Li Z, Knoll ML, Stokes C, Hsiang TY, Netland J, Takehara KK, Pepper M, Gale M Jr.

10.1093/infdis/jiaa797 08/04/2021

PMID: 33367830


Background: To determine how serologic antibody testing outcome links with virus neutralization of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), we evaluated individuals for SARS-CoV-2 antibody level and viral neutralization.

Methods: We compared serum Ig levels across platforms of viral antigens and antibodies with 15 positive and 30 negative SARS-CoV-2 controls followed by viral neutralization assessment. We then applied these platforms to a clinically relevant cohort of 114 individuals with unknown histories of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Results: In controls, the best-performing virus-specific antibody detection platforms were SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain (RBD) IgG (sensitivity 87%, specificity 100%, positive predictive value [PPV] 100%, negative predictive value [NPV] 94%), spike IgG3 (sensitivity 93%, specificity 97%, PPV 93%, NPV 97%), and nucleocapsid protein (NP) IgG (sensitivity 93%, specificity 97%, PPV 93%, NPV 97%). Neutralization of positive and negative control sera showed 100% agreement. Twenty individuals with unknown history had detectable SARS-CoV-2 antibodies with 16 demonstrating virus neutralization. Spike IgG3 provided the highest accuracy for predicting serologically positive individuals with virus neutralization activity (misidentified 1/20 unknowns compared to 2/20 for RBD and NP IgG).

Conclusions: The coupling of virus neutralization analysis to a spike IgG3 antibody test is optimal to categorize patients for correlates of SARS-CoV-2 immune protection status.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; antibody; immunity; neutralization; serologic; two-tiered testing.