How do antibodies neutralize the novel coronavirus?

An animated look at the immune response to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Learn how scientists are studying the antibodies produced by people exposed to SARS-CoV-2. These antibodies could be used to create treatments or vaccines for the virus.

Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins produced by our immune system after we are exposed to a disease-causing invader, such as bacteria or a virus. These proteins help the body remember the threat and be better prepared for the next encounter. If the virus still manages to enter the cell, antibodies can still prevent the virus from releasing its genome into the host cell for replication.

Antibodies bound to the virus can also signal to other components of our immune system, targeting the virus for destruction. Scientists are trying to use antibodies both as a way to treat COVID-19 and prevent the disease from taking hold. Some researchers are studying antibodies taken from recovered COVID-19 patients. These antibodies could act as a medicine for the newly infected.

Other scientists are focused on how the antibody interacts with coronavirus spike proteins, which may enable them to design a successful vaccine that instructs our bodies to generate effective antibodies against the virus. The long-term hope is that we might also be able to identify “broadly neutralizing antibodies,” a type of antibody that could defuse not just this specific viral strain, but also offshoots that occur because of natural mutations in the virus over time.