Anti-SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein and Anti-Platelet Factor 4 Antibody Responses Induced by COVID-19 Disease and ChAdOx1 nCov-19 vaccination : [Preprint]

EDITORIAL NOTE:

This study explores a potential mechanism for the rare thrombotic events observed following vaccination with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine (AZD1222). The researchers conclude that antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 spike protein do not cross-react with platelet factor 4, the protein targeted in this rare disorder. At the time of this posting, the World Health Organization has stated that “a causal relationship between the vaccine and the occurrence of blood clots with low platelets is considered plausible but is not confirmed.” Some of the authors disclose relevant conflicts of interest.

Background:

Some recipients of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca develop antibody-mediated vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT), associated with cerebral venous and other unusual thrombosis resembling autoimmune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia. A prothrombotic predisposition is also observed in Covid-19. We explored whether antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein induced by Covid-19 cross-react with platelet factor 4 (PF4/CXLC4), the protein targeted in both VITT and autoimmune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.

Methods:

Immunogenic epitopes of PF4 and SARS-CoV-2 spike protein were compared via prediction tools and 3D modelling software (IMED, SIM, MacMYPOL). Sera from 222 PCR-confirmed Covid-19 patients from five European centers were tested by PF4/heparin ELISA, heparin-dependent and PF4-dependent platelet activation assays. Immunogenic reactivity of purified anti-PF4 and anti-PF4/heparin antibodies from patients with VITT were tested against recombinant SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

Results:

Three motifs within the spike protein sequence share a potential immunogenic epitope with PF4. Nineteen of 222 (8.6%) Covid-19 patient sera tested positive in the IgG-specific PF4/heparin ELISA, none of which showed platelet activation in the heparin-dependent activation assay, including 10 (4.5%) of the 222 Covid-19 patients who developed thromboembolic complications. Purified anti-PF4 and anti-PF4/heparin antibodies from two VITT patients did not show cross-reactivity to recombinant SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

Conclusions:

The antibody responses to PF4 in SARS-CoV-2 infection and after vaccination with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca differ. Antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 spike protein do not cross-react with PF4 or PF4/heparin complexes through molecular mimicry. These findings make it very unlikely that the intended vaccine-induced immune response against SARS-CoV-2 spike protein would itself induce VITT.

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