Covid-19 may awaken antibody response from previous infections: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on January 20, 2021

Understanding of coronaviruses-triggered immunity responses may help scientists design new diagnostics and future vaccines

Findings of a new study suggested that the immune systems of CovidD-19 positive people may rely on antibodies created during infections from earlier coronaviruses.

Before SARS-CoV-2 -- the virus that causes Covid-19 -- humans have witnessed at least six other types of coronaviruses.

The study, carried out by Northern Arizona University and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), was published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine.

Immunity response

Senior author John Altin, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in TGen's infectious disease branch said: “Our results suggest that the Covid-19 virus may awaken an antibody response that existed in humans prior to our current pandemic, meaning that we might already have some degree of pre-existing immunity to this virus.”

According to the authors of the study, their understanding of coronaviruses triggered immunity responses may help scientists design new diagnostics and future vaccines that may help in protecting people from mutations.

The researchers employed a tool called PepSeq to map antibody responses to all human-infecting coronaviruses.


PepSeq is a novel technology being developed at TGen and NAU that allows for the construction of highly diverse pools of peptides (short chains of amino acids) bound to DNA tags.

When combined with high-throughput sequencing, these PepSeq molecule pools allow for deep interrogation of the antibody response to viruses, the study noted.

For the study, the researchers also analyzed the antibody responses from two other potentially deadly coronaviruses: MERS-CoV, which caused the 2012 outbreak in Saudi Arabia of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome; and SARS-CoV-1, the first pandemic coronavirus that caused the 2003 outbreak in Asia of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

All three are examples of coronaviruses that infect animals but evolved to make people sick and became new human pathogens.

The researchers then compared patterns of reactivity against these different coronaviruses. They demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 could summon immune system antibodies originally generated in response to past coronavirus infections.

According to researchers, their findings may help explain the widely varying reactions Covid-19 patients have to the disease; from mild to no symptoms, to severe infections requiring hospitalization, and often resulting in death.

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Published on January 20, 2021
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