Establishment and clinical validation of an in-cell-ELISA-based assay for the rapid quantification of Rabies virus neutralizing antibodies

Neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) prevent the entry of viruses into permissive cells. Since nAbs represent correlates of protection against the Rabies lyssavirus, the presence of sufficient nAbs indicates effective vaccination. Accordingly, Rabies lyssavirus-specific nAb titers need to be determined in routine diagnostics to identify individuals being at risk of Rabies lyssavirus infections due to insufficient immunity. The current gold standard for the quantification of Rabies lyssavirus-specific nAbs is the rapid fluorescent focus inhibition test (RFFIT). However, RFFITs are expensive and labor-intensive since multiple microplate wells must be evaluated one-by-one by trained personnel through microscopic inspection, which limits the number of samples that can be processed. To overcome this disadvantage, we established a novel assay for Rabies lyssavirus-specific nAbs relying on an in-cell-ELISA (icELISA)-based neutralization test (icNT). The icNT differs from the RFFIT in the readout phase, and can be automatically quantified in minutes using broadly available microplate readers. During the establishment, icNT parameters such as antibody concentrations, permeabilization procedures, blocking reagents, infectious doses, and the duration of infection were optimized. Afterwards, a dose-dependent detection of Rabies lyssavirus neutralization was demonstrated using the WHO Standard Rabies Immunoglobulin reference. A panel of 200 sera with known RFFIT titers revealed very good sensitivity and specificity of the icNT. Furthermore, the icNT showed very good intra- and inter-assay precision. By recognizing Rabies lyssavirus-specific antigens, the assay can be applied immediately to automatically quantify the concentration of Rabies lyssavirus nAbs in routine diagnostics or for various basic research questions such as screening for antiviral compounds.


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