Phagocytic responses by effector cells to antibody or complement-opsonised viruses have been recognized to play a key role in anti-viral immunity. These include antibody dependent cellular phagocytosis mediated via Fc-receptors, phagocytosis mediated by classically activated complement-fixing IgM or IgG1 antibodies and antibody independent phagocytosis mediated via direct opsonisation of viruses by complement products activated via the mannose-binding lectin pathway. Limited data suggest these phagocytic responses by effector cells may contribute to the immunological and inflammatory responses in SARS-CoV-2 infection, however, their development and clinical significance remain to be fully elucidated. In this cohort of 62 patients, acutely ill individuals were shown to mount phagocytic responses to autologous plasma-opsonised SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein-coated microbeads as early as 10 days post symptom onset. Heat inactivation of the plasma prior to use as an opsonin caused 77-95% abrogation of the phagocytic response, and pre-blocking of Fc-receptors on the effector cells showed only 18-60% inhibition. These results suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can provoke early phagocytosis, which is primarily driven by heat labile components, likely activated complements, with variable contribution from anti-Spike antibodies. During convalescence, phagocytic responses correlated significantly with anti-Spike IgG titers. Older patients and patients with severe disease had significantly higher phagocytosis and neutralisation functions when compared to younger patients or patients with asymptomatic, mild, or moderate disease. A longitudinal study of a subset of these patients over 12 months showed preservation of phagocytic and neutralisation functions in all patients, despite a drop in the endpoint antibody titers by more than 90%. Interestingly, surface plasmon resonance showed a significant increase in the affinity of the anti-Spike antibodies over time correlating with the maintenance of both the phagocytic and neutralisation functions suggesting that improvement in the antibody quality over the 12 months contributed to the retention of effector functions.
Competing Interest Statement
The authors have declared no competing interest.
Paper in collection COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 preprints from medRxiv and bioRxiv