Contributing to research themes:
Memory B cells (MBC) can provide a recall response able to supplement waning antibodies with an affinity-matured response better able to neutralise variant viruses. We studied a cohort of elderly care home residents and younger staff (median age 87yrs and 56yrs respectively) who had survived COVID-19 outbreaks with only mild/asymptomatic infection. The cohort was selected to enrich for a high proportion who had lost neutralising antibodies (nAb), to specifically investigate the reserve immunity from SARS-CoV-2-specific MBC in this setting. Class-switched spike and RBD-tetramer-binding MBC persisted five months post-mild/asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, irrespective of age. The majority of spike/RBD-specific MBC had a classical phenotype but activated memory B cells, that may indicate ongoing antigenic stimulation or inflammation, were expanded in the elderly. Spike/RBD-specific MBC remained detectable in the majority who had lost nAb, although at lower frequencies and with a reduced IgG/IgA isotype ratio. Functional spike/S1/RBD-specific recall was also detectable by ELISpot in some who had lost nAb, but was significantly impaired in the elderly. Our findings demonstrate a reserve of SARS-CoV-2-specific MBC persists beyond loss of nAb, but highlight the need for careful monitoring of functional defects in spike/RBD-specific B cell immunity in the elderly.