SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccines induce a robust germinal centre reaction in humans
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccines are ~95% effective in preventing coronavirus disease 2019. However, the dynamics of antibody secreting plasmablasts (PBs) and germinal centre (GC) B cells induced by these vaccines in SARS-CoV-2 naïve and antigen-experienced humans remains unclear. Here we examined peripheral blood and/or lymph node (LN) antigen-specific B cell responses in 32 individuals who received two doses of BNT162b2, an
... BNT162b2, an mRNA-based vaccine encoding the full-length SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) gene. Circulating IgG- and IgA-secreting PBs targeting the S protein peaked one week after the second immunization then declined and were undetectable three weeks later. PB responses coincided with maximal levels of serum anti-S binding and neutralizing antibodies to a historical strain as well as emerging variants, especially in individuals previously infected with SARS-CoV-2, who produced the most robust serological responses. Fine needle aspirates of draining axillary LNs identified GC B cells that bind S protein in all participants sampled after primary immunization. GC responses increased after boosting and were detectable in two distinct LNs in several participants. Remarkably, high frequencies of S-binding GC B cells and PBs were maintained in draining LNs for up to seven weeks after first immunization, with a substantial fraction of the PB pool class-switched to IgA. GC B cell-derived monoclonal antibodies predominantly targeted the RBD, with fewer clones binding to the N-terminal domain or shared epitopes within the S proteins of human betacoronaviruses OC43 and HKU1. Our studies demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 mRNA-based vaccination of humans induces a robust and persistent GC B cell response that engages pre-existing as well as new B cell clones, which enables generation of high-affinity, broad, and durable humoral immunity.