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The Theory and Practice of the viral dose in neutralization assay: insights on SARS-CoV-2 “doublethink” effect

By Alessandro Manenti, Eleonora Molesti, Marta Maggetti, Alessandro Torelli, Giulia Lapini, Emanuele Montomoli

Posted 16 Oct 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.16.342428

Due to the global spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), there is an urgent need for reliable high-throughput serological assays in order to evaluate the immunological responses against SARS-COV-2 virus and to enable population screening, as well as vaccines and drugs efficacy testing. Several serological assays for SARS-CoV-2 are now becoming available in the market. However, it has also become extremely important to have well-established assays with desirable high sensitivity and specificity. To date, the micro-neutralization (MN) assay, is currently considered the gold-standard being capable of evaluating and detecting, functional neutralizing antibodies (nAbs). Several protocols exist for micro-neutralization assays which vary in several steps of the protocol: cell seeding conditions, number of cells seeded, virus amount used in the infection step, virus-serum-cells incubation period etc. These potential differences account for a high degree of variability and inconsistency of the results and using a harmonized protocol for the micro-neutralization assay could potentially solve this. Given this situation, the main aim of our study was to carry out SARS-CoV-2 wild type virus MN assay in order to investigate which optimal tissue culture infective dose 50 (TCID50) infective dose in use is the most adequate choice for implementation in terms of reproducibility, standardization possibilities and comparability of results. Therefore, we assessed the MN by using two different viral infective doses: a standard dose of 100 TCID50/well and a lower dose of 25 TCID50/well. The results obtained, yielded by MN on using the lower infective dose (25 TCID50), were in line with those obtained with the standard infective dose; in some cases, however, we detected a titre that was one or two dilution steps higher, which maintained all negative samples negative. This suggesting that the lower dose can potentially have a positive impact on the detection and estimation of neutralizing antibodies present in a given sample, showing higher sensitivity but similar specificity and therefore, it would require a more accurate assessment and cross-laboratories standardisation especially when MN is employed as serological assay of choice for pre-clinical and clinical studies. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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