Detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein in both serum and saliva enhances detection of infection

June 18, 2020

Publication type

Journal Article



Volume and Number

2020.06.16.20133025. doi: 10.1101/2020.06.16.20133025. Preprint.


Faustini SE, Jossi SE, Perez-Toledo M, Shields A, Allen JD, Watanabe Y, Newby ML, Cook A, Willcox CR, Salim M, Goodall M, Heaney JL, Marcial-Juarez E, Morley GL, Torlinska B, Wraith DC, Veenith T, Harding S, Jolles S, Mark PJ, Plant T, Huissoon A, O'Shea MK, Willcox BE, Drayson MT, Crispin M, Cunningham AF, Richter AG


Detecting antibody responses during and after SARS-CoV-2 infection is essential in determining the seroepidemiology of the virus and the potential role of antibody in disease. Scalable, sensitive and specific serological assays are essential to this process.

The detection of antibody in hospitalized patients with severe disease has proven straightforward; detecting responses in subjects with mild disease and asymptomatic infections has proven less reliable. We hypothesized that the suboptimal sensitivity of antibody assays and the compartmentalization of the antibody response may contribute to this effect.

We systemically developed an ELISA assay, optimising different antigens and amplification steps, in serum and saliva from symptomatic and asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2-infected subjects.


  • Using trimeric spike glycoprotein, rather than nucleocapsid enabled detection of responses in individuals with low antibody responses. IgG1 and IgG3 predominate to both antigens, but more antispike IgG1 than IgG3 was detectable.
  • All antigens were effective for detecting responses in hospitalized patients. Anti-spike, but not nucleocapsid, IgG, IgA and IgM antibody responses were readily detectable in saliva from non-hospitalized symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.
  • Antibody responses in saliva and serum were largely independent of each other and symptom reporting.
  • Detecting antibody responses in both saliva and serum is optimal for determining virus exposure and understanding immune responses after SARS-CoV-2 infection.