The SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) glycoprotein contains an immunodominant receptor-binding domain (RBD) targeted by most neutralizing antibodies (Abs) in COVID-19 patient plasma. Little is known about neutralizing Abs binding to epitopes outside the RBD and their contribution to protection. In this article the authors describe 41 human monoclonal Abs (mAbs) derived from memory B cells, which recognize the SARS-CoV-2 S N-terminal domain (NTD) and show that a subset of them neutralize SARS-CoV-2 ultrapotently. They define an antigenic map of the SARS-CoV-2 NTD and identify a supersite (designated site i) recognized by all known NTD-specific neutralizing mAbs. These mAbs inhibit cell-to-cell fusion, activate effector functions, and protect Syrian hamsters from SARS-CoV-2 challenge, albeit selecting escape mutants in some animals. Indeed, several SARS-CoV-2 variants, including the B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P1 lineages, harbor frequent mutations within the NTD supersite suggesting ongoing selective pressure and the importance of NTD-specific neutralizing mAbs for protective immunity and vaccine design.
McCallum, et al, N-terminal domain antigenic mapping reveals a site of vulnerability for SARS-CoV-2, Cell (2021), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2021.03.028