Longitudinal analysis of antibody dynamics in COVID-19 convalescents reveals neutralizing responses up to 16 months after infection

Elucidating the dynamics of the neutralizing antibody (nAb) response in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) convalescents is crucial in controlling the pandemic and informing vaccination strategies. Here we measured nAb titres across 411 sequential plasma samples collected during 1-480 d after illness onset or laboratory confirmation (d.a.o.) from 214 COVID-19 convalescents, covering the clinical spectrum of disease and without additional exposure history after recovery or vaccination against SARS-CoV-2, using authentic SARS-CoV-2 microneutralization (MN) assays. Forty-eight samples were also tested for neutralizing activities against the circulating variants using pseudotyped neutralization assay. Results showed that anti-RBD IgG and MN titres peaked at ~120 d.a.o. and subsequently declined, with significantly reduced nAb responses found in 91.67% of COVID-19 convalescents (β‰₯50% decrease in current MN titres compared with the paired peak MN titres). Despite this decline, majority of the COVID-19 convalescents maintained detectable anti-RBD IgG and MN titres at 400-480 d.a.o., with undetectable neutralizing activity found in 14.41% (16/111) of the mild and 50% (5/10) of the asymptomatic infections at 330-480 d.a.o. Persistent antibody-dependent immunity could provide protection against circulating variants after one year, despite significantly decreased neutralizing activities against Beta, Delta and Mu variants.

In conclusion, these data show that despite a marked decline in neutralizing activity over time, nAb responses persist for up to 480 d in most convalescents of symptomatic COVID-19, whereas a high rate of undetectable nAb responses was found in convalescents from asymptomatic infections.