The molecular basis of the neutralization breadth of the RBD-specific antibody CoV11

William D. Tolbert*, Yaozong Chen, Lulu Sun, Mehdi Benlarbi, Shilei Ding, Rohini Manickam, Emily Pangaro, Dung N. Nguyen, Suneetha Gottumukkala, Marceline Côté, Frank J. Gonzalez, Andrés Finzi, Zahra R. Tehrani, Mohammad M. Sajadi, Marzena Pazgier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, has changed over time to the extent that the current virus is substantially different from what originally led to the pandemic in 2019–2020. Viral variants have modified the severity and transmissibility of the disease and continue do so. How much of this change is due to viral fitness versus a response to immune pressure is hard to define. One class of antibodies that continues to afford some level of protection from emerging variants are those that closely overlap the binding site for angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) on the receptor binding domain (RBD). Some members of this class that were identified early in the course of the pandemic arose from the VH 3-53 germline gene (IGHV3-53*01) and had short heavy chain complementarity-determining region 3s (CDR H3s). Here, we describe the molecular basis of the SARS-CoV-2 RBD recognition by the anti-RBD monoclonal antibody CoV11 isolated early in the COVID-19 pandemic and show how its unique mode of binding the RBD determines its neutralization breadth. CoV11 utilizes a heavy chain VH 3-53 and a light chain VK 3-20 germline sequence to bind to the RBD. Two of CoV11’s four heavy chain changes from the VH 3-53 germline sequence, (Formula presented.) to Ile and (Formula presented.) to Arg, and some unique features in its CDR H3 increase its affinity to the RBD, while the four light chain changes from the VK 3-20 germline sequence sit outside of the RBD binding site. Antibodies of this type can retain significant affinity and neutralization potency against variants of concern (VOCs) that have diverged significantly from original virus lineage such as the prevalent omicron variant. We also discuss the mechanism by which VH 3-53 encoded antibodies recognize spike antigen and show how minimal changes to their sequence, their choice of light chain, and their mode of binding influence their affinity and impact their neutralization breadth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1178355
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • VH 3-53 germline gene (IGHV3-53*01)
  • neutralizing antibody
  • receptor binding domain (RBD)
  • variants of concern (VOC)


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