Research ArticleCORONAVIRUS

CD8+ T cells specific for conserved coronavirus epitopes correlate with milder disease in COVID-19 patients

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Science Immunology  01 Jul 2021:
Vol. 6, Issue 61, eabg5669
DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abg5669

Abstract

A central feature of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is that some individuals become severely ill or die, whereas others have only a mild disease course or are asymptomatic. Here we report development of an improved multimeric αβ T cell staining reagent platform, with each maxi-ferritin “spheromer” displaying 12 peptide-MHC complexes. Spheromers stain specific T cells more efficiently than peptide-MHC tetramers and capture a broader portion of the sequence repertoire for a given peptide-MHC. Analyzing the response in unexposed individuals, we find that T cells recognizing peptides conserved amongst coronaviruses are more abundant and tend to have a “memory” phenotype, compared to those unique to SARS-CoV-2. Significantly, CD8+ T cells with these conserved specificities are much more abundant in COVID-19 patients with mild disease versus those with a more severe illness, suggesting a protective role.

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