A Glycosylated RBD Protein Induces Enhanced Neutralizing Antibodies against Omicron and Other Variants with Improved Protection against SARS-CoV-2 Infection

Juan Shi, Jian Zheng, Wanbo Tai, Abhishek K. Verma, Xiujuan Zhang, Qibin Geng, Gang Wang, Xiaoqing Guan, Moffat M. Malisheni, Abby E. Odle, Wei Zhang, Fang Li, Stanley Perlman, Lanying Du

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

SARS-CoV-2 has mutated frequently since its first emergence in 2019. Numerous variants, including the currently emerging Omicron variant, have demonstrated high transmissibility or increased disease severity, posing serious threats to global public health. This study describes the identification of an immunodominant non-neutralizing epitope on SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain (RBD). A subunit vaccine against this mutant RBD, constructed by masking this epitope with a glycan probe, did not significantly affect RBD’s receptor-binding affinity or antibody-binding affinity, or its ability to induce antibody production. However, this vaccine enhanced the neutralizing activity of this RBD and its protective efficacy in immunized mice. Specifically, this vaccine elicited significantly higher-titer neutralizing antibodies than the prototypic RBD protein against Alpha (B.1.1.7 lineage), Beta (B.1.351 lineage), Gamma (P.1 lineage), and Epsilon (B.1.427 or B.1.429 lineage) variant pseudoviruses containing single or combined mutations in the spike (S) protein, albeit the neutralizing antibody titers against some variants were slightly lower than against original SARS-CoV-2. This vaccine also significantly improved the neutralizing activity of the prototypic RBD against pseudotyped and authentic Delta (B.1.617.2 lineage) and Omicron (B.1.1.529 lineage) variants, although the neutralizing antibody titers were lower than against original SARS-CoV-2. In contrast to the prototypic RBD, the mutant RBD completely protected human ACE2 (hACE2)-transgenic mice from lethal challenge with a prototype SARS-CoV-2 strain and a Delta variant without weight loss. Overall, these findings indicate that this RBD vaccine has broad-spectrum activity against multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants, as well as the potential to be effective and have improved efficacy against Omicron and other pandemic variants. IMPORTANCE Several SARS-CoV-2 variants have shown increased transmissibility, calling for a need to develop effective vaccines with broadly neutralizing activity against multiple variants. This study identified a non-neutralizing epitope on the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and further shielded it with a glycan probe. A subunit vaccine based on this mutant RBD significantly enhanced the ability of prototypic RBD against multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants, including the Delta and Omicron strains, although the neutralizing antibody titers against some of these variants were lower than those against original SARS-CoV-2. This mutant vaccine also enhanced the protective efficacy of the prototypic RBD vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 infection in immunized animals. In conclusion, this study identified an engineered RBD vaccine against Omicron and other SARS-CoV-2 variants that induced stronger neutralizing antibodies and protection than the original RBD vaccine. It also highlights the need to improve the effectiveness of current COVID-19 vaccines to prevent pandemic SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of virology
Volume96
Issue number17
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by NIH grants (R01AI139092, R01AI137472, and R01AI157975). We declare no conflicts of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

Keywords

  • coronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • enhanced protection
  • improved neutralizing activity
  • Omicron and other variants
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • subunit vaccine

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

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