Back to the Future: Immune Protection or Enhancement of Future Coronaviruses.

Publication date: Mar 19, 2024

Before the emergence of SARS-CoV-1, MERS-CoV, and most recently, SARS-CoV-2, four other coronaviruses (the alpha coronaviruses NL63 and 229E and the beta coronaviruses OC43 and HKU1) had already been circulating in the human population. These circulating coronaviruses all cause mild respiratory illness during the winter seasons, and most people are already infected in early life. Could antibodies and/or T cells, especially against the beta coronaviruses, have offered some form of protection against (severe) COVID-19 caused by infection with SARS-CoV-2? Related is the question of whether survivors of SARS-CoV-1 or MERS-CoV would be relatively protected against SARS-CoV-2. More importantly, would humoral and cellular immunological memory generated during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, either by infection or vaccination, offer protection against future coronaviruses? Or rather than protection, could antibody-dependent enhancement have taken place, a mechanism by which circulating corona antibodies enhance the severity of COVID-19? Another related phenomenon, the original antigenic sin, would also predict that the effectiveness of the immune response to future coronaviruses would be impaired because of the reactivation of memory against irrelevant epitopes. The currently available evidence indicates that latter scenarios are highly unlikely and that especially cytotoxic memory T cells directed against conserved epitopes of human coronaviruses could at least offer partial protection against future coronaviruses.

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Concepts Keywords
Antibodies antibody-dependent enhancement
Coronaviruses conserved T-cell epitopes
Mild COVID-19
Oc43 human coronaviruses
Winter original antigenic sin

Original Article

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