Multiple vaccine candidates against SARS-CoV-2 based on viral spike protein are under development. However, there is limited information on the quality of antibody responses generated with these vaccine modalities. To better understand antibody responses induced by spike protein-based vaccines, we performed a qualitative study by immunizing rabbits with various SARS-CoV-2 spike protein antigens: S-ectodomain (S1+S2) (aa 16-1213), which lacks the cytoplasmic and transmembrane domains (CT-TM), the S1 domain (aa 16-685), the receptor-binding domain (RBD) (aa 319-541), and the S2 domain (aa 686-1213, lacking the RBD, as control). Resulting antibody quality and function were analyzed by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), receptor binding domain (RBD) competition assay, surface plasmon resonance (SPR) against different spike proteins in native conformation, and neutralization assays. All three antigens (S1+S2 ectodomain, S1 domain, and RBD), but not S2, generated strong neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Vaccination-induced antibody repertoire was analyzed by SARS-CoV-2 spike genome fragment phage display libraries (SARS-CoV-2 GFPDL), which identified immunodominant epitopes in the S1, S1-RBD, and S2 domains. Furthermore, these analyses demonstrated that the RBD immunogen elicited a higher antibody titer with 5-fold higher affinity antibodies to native spike antigens compared with other spike antigens; and antibody affinity correlated strongly with neutralization titers. These findings may help guide rational vaccine design and facilitate development and evaluation of effective therapeutics and vaccines against COVID-19 disease.
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