High-Resolution Linear Epitope Mapping of the Receptor Binding Domain of SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein in COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Recipients.Microbiol Spectr. 2021 12 22; 9(3):e0096521.MS
The prompt rollout of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) mRNA vaccine is facilitating population immunity, which is becoming more dominant than natural infection-mediated immunity. In the midst of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine deployment, understanding the epitope profiles of vaccine-elicited antibodies will be the first step in assessing the functionality of vaccine-induced immunity. In this study, the high-resolution linear epitope profiles of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine recipients and COVID-19 patients were delineated by using microarrays mapped with overlapping peptides of the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The vaccine-induced antibodies targeting the RBD had a broader distribution across the RBD than that induced by the natural infection. Half-maximal neutralization titers were measured in vitro by live virus neutralization assays. As a result, relatively lower neutralizability was observed in vaccine recipient sera, when normalized to a total anti-RBD IgG titer. However, mutation panel assays targeting the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern have shown that the vaccine-induced epitope variety, rich in breadth, may grant resistance against future viral evolutionary escapes, serving as an advantage of vaccine-induced immunity. IMPORTANCE Establishing vaccine-based population immunity has been the key factor in attaining herd protection. Thanks to expedited worldwide research efforts, the potency of mRNA vaccines against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is now incontestable. The next debate is regarding the coverage of SARS-CoV-2 variants. In the midst of vaccine deployment, it is of importance to describe the similarities and differences between the immune responses of COVID-19 vaccine recipients and naturally infected individuals. In this study, we demonstrated that the antibody profiles of vaccine recipients are richer in variety, targeting a key protein of the invading virus, than those of naturally infected individuals. Vaccine-elicited antibodies included more nonneutralizing antibodies than infection-elicited antibodies, and their breadth in antibody variations suggested possible resilience against future SARS-CoV-2 variants. The antibody profile achieved by vaccinations in naive individuals provides important insight into the first step toward vaccine-based population immunity.