Currently, there is a need for reliable tests that allow identification of individuals that have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 even if the infection was asymptomatic. To date, the vast majority of the serological tests for SARS-CoV-2 specific antibodies are based on serum detection of antibodies to either the viral spike glycoprotein (the major target for neutralising antibodies) or the viral nucleocapsid protein that are known to be highly immunogenic in other coronaviruses. Conceivably, exposure of antigens released from infected cells could stimulate antibody responses that might correlate with tissue damage and, hence, they may have some value as a prognostic indicator. We addressed whether other non-structural viral proteins, not incorporated into the infectious viral particle, specifically the viral cysteine-like protease, might also be potent immunogens. Using ELISA tests, coating several SARS-CoV-2 proteins produced in vitro, we describe that COVID-19 patients make high titre IgG, IgM and IgA antibody responses to the Cys-like protease from SARS-CoV-2, also known as 3CLpro or Mpro, and it can be used to identify individuals with positive serology against the coronavirus. Higher antibody titres in these assays associated with more severe disease and no cross-reactive antibodies against prior betacoronavirus were found. Remarkably, IgG antibodies specific for Mpro and other SARS-CoV-2 antigens can also be detected in saliva. In conclusion, Mpro is a potent antigen in infected patients that can be used in serological tests and its detection in saliva could be the basis for a rapid, non-invasive test for COVID-19 seropositivity.
medrxiv Subject Collection: Infectious Diseases