More than three years ago, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) caused the unforeseen COVID-19 pandemic with millions of deaths. In the meantime, SARS-CoV-2 has become endemic and is now part of the repertoire of viruses causing seasonal severe respiratory infections. Due to several factors, among them the development of SARS-CoV-2 immunity through natural infection, vaccination and the current dominance of seemingly less pathogenic strains belonging to the omicron lineage, the COVID-19 situation has stabilized. However, several challenges remain and the possible new occurrence of highly pathogenic variants remains a threat. Here we review the development, features and importance of assays measuring SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies (NAbs). In particular we focus on in vitro infection assays and molecular interaction assays studying the binding of the receptor binding domain (RBD) with its cognate cellular receptor ACE2. These assays, but not the measurement of SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies per se, can inform us of whether antibodies produced by convalescent or vaccinated subjects may protect against the infection and thus have the potential to predict the risk of becoming newly infected. This information is extremely important given the fact that a considerable number of subjects, in particular vulnerable persons, respond poorly to the vaccination with the production of neutralizing antibodies. Furthermore, these assays allow to determine and evaluate the virus-neutralizing capacity of antibodies induced by vaccines and administration of plasma-, immunoglobulin preparations, monoclonal antibodies, ACE2 variants or synthetic compounds to be used for therapy of COVID-19 and assist in the preclinical evaluation of vaccines. Both types of assays can be relatively quickly adapted to newly emerging virus variants to inform us about the magnitude of cross-neutralization, which may even allow us to estimate the risk of becoming infected by newly appearing virus variants. Given the paramount importance of the infection and interaction assays we discuss their specific features, possible advantages and disadvantages, technical aspects and not yet fully resolved issues, such as cut-off levels predicting the degree of in vivo protection.
- Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2
- Antibodies, Viral
- Antibodies, Neutralizing