Case Study: Longitudinal immune profiling of a SARS-CoV-2 reinfection in a solid organ transplant recipient

Prior to the emergence of antigenically distinct SARS-CoV-2 variants, reinfections were reported infrequently - presumably due to the generation of durable and protective immune responses. However, case reports also suggested that rare, repeated infections may occur as soon as 48 days following initial disease onset. The underlying immunologic deficiencies enabling SARS-CoV-2 reinfections are currently unknown.

Here we describe a renal transplant recipient who developed recurrent, symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection - confirmed by whole virus genome sequencing - 7 months after primary infection. To elucidate the immunological mechanisms responsible for SARS-CoV-2 reinfection, we performed longitudinal profiling of cellular and humoral responses during both primary and recurrent SARS-CoV-2 infection.

We found that the patient responded to the primary infection with transient, poor-quality adaptive immune responses. The patient’s immune system was further compromised by intervening treatment for acute rejection of the renal allograft prior to reinfection. Importantly, we also identified the development of neutralizing antibodies and the formation of humoral memory responses prior to SARS-CoV-2 reinfection.

However, these neutralizing antibodies failed to confer protection against reinfection, suggesting that additional factors are required for efficient prevention of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection. Further, we found no evidence supporting viral evasion of primary adaptive immune responses, suggesting that susceptibility to reinfection may be determined by host factors rather than pathogen adaptation in this patient.

In summary, our study suggests that a low neutralizing antibody presence alone is not sufficient to confer resistance against reinfection. Thus, patients with solid organ transplantation, or patients who are otherwise immunosuppressed, who recover from infection with SARS-CoV-2 may not develop sufficient protective immunity and are at risk of reinfection.

Authors: Jonathan Klein, Anderson F. Brito, Paul Trubin, Peiwen Lu, Patrick Wong, Tara Alpert, Mario A. Peña-Hernández, Winston Haynes, Kathy Kamath, Feimei Liu, Chantal B. F. Vogels, Joseph R. Fauver, Carolina Lucas, Jieun Oh, Tianyang Mao, Julio Silva, Anne L. Wyllie, M. Catherine Muenker, Arnau Casanovas-Massana, Adam J. Moore, Mary E. Petrone, Chaney C. Kalinich, Yale IMPACT Research Team,, Charles Dela Cruz, Shelli Farhadian, Aaron Ring, John Shon, Albert I. Ko, Nathan D. Grubaugh, Benjamin Israelow, Akiko Iwasaki, Marwan M. Azar