Researchers reveal why viruses like SARS-CoV-2 can reinfect hosts, evade the immune response

The human body is capable of creating a vast, diverse repertoire of antibodies—the Y-shaped sniffer dogs of the immune system that can find and flag foreign invaders. Despite our ability to create a range of antibodies to target viruses, humans create antibodies that target the same viral regions again and again, according to a new study led by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, and Harvard Medical School. These “public epitopes” mean that the generation of new antibodies is far from random and that a virus may be able to mutate a single amino acid to reinfect a population of previously immune hosts. The team’s findings, which have implications for our understanding of immunity and public health, are published in Science.

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