Nat Med. 2021 May 5. doi: 10.1038/s41591-021-01355-0. Online ahead of print.
Recent studies have provided insights into innate and adaptive immune dynamics in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, the exact features of antibody responses that govern COVID-19 disease outcomes remain unclear. In this study, we analyzed humoral immune responses in 229 patients with asymptomatic, mild, moderate and severe COVID-19 over time to probe the nature of antibody responses in disease severity and mortality. We observed a correlation between anti-spike (S) immunoglobulin G (IgG) levels, length of hospitalization and clinical parameters associated with worse clinical progression. Although high anti-S IgG levels correlated with worse disease severity, such correlation was time dependent. Deceased patients did not have higher overall humoral response than discharged patients. However, they mounted a robust, yet delayed, response, measured by anti-S, anti-receptor-binding domain IgG and neutralizing antibody (NAb) levels compared to survivors. Delayed seroconversion kinetics correlated with impaired viral control in deceased patients. Finally, although sera from 85% of patients displayed some neutralization capacity during their disease course, NAb generation before 14 d of disease onset emerged as a key factor for recovery. These data indicate that COVID-19 mortality does not correlate with the cross-sectional antiviral antibody levels per se but, rather, with the delayed kinetics of NAb production.