bioRxiv | 2021
A glimpse into the diverse cellular immunity against SARS-CoV-2
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)-specific cellular immune response may prove to be essential for long-term immune protection against the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). To assess COVID-19-specific immunity in the population, we synthesized selected peptide pools of SARS-CoV-2 structural and functional proteins, including Spike (S), Membrane (M), Envelope (E), Nucleocapsid (N) and Protease (P) as target antigens. Survey of the T cell precursur frequencies in healthy individuals specific to these viral antigens demonstrated a diverse cellular immunity, including high, medium, low and no responders. This was further confirmed by in vitro induction of anti-SARS-CoV-2 T cell immune responses using dendritic cell (DC)/T cell coculture, which supported the corresponding T cell precursor frequencies in each of the individuals tested. In general, the combination of all five viral antigen pools induced the strongest cellular immune response, yet individual donors responded differently to different viral antigens. Importantly, in vitro restimulation of the T cells with the DC-peptides induced increased anti-viral immune responses in all individuals even in the no responders, suggesting that repeated antigen stimulation could elicit a broad protection in immune naïve population. Our analysis recapitulates the critical role of cellular immunity in fighting COVID-19 and the importance of analyzing anti-SARS-CoV-2 T cell response in addition to antibody response in the population. Importance Facing the rapid evolving SARS-CoV-2 variants in the world, current emphasis on antibody-producing vaccines needs a quick revisit. The virus-specific cellular immunity may prove to be essential for long-term protection against COVID-19. This study designed a series of antigenic peptides encompassing the conserved and/or essential domains of Spike (S), Membrane (M), envelope (E), Nucleocapsid (N) and Protease (P) as targets to assess Covid-19-specific immunity in the population. The results demonstrated a diverse cellular immunity, including high, medium, low and no responders. This was verified by in vitro generation of anti-SARS-CoV-2 T-cells from these subjects. The study suggested that individuals responded differently to the different viral antigens, and importantly, repeated stimulation could produce virus specific T cells in all individuals, including the no responders. This study illustrates the needs for assessing anti-viral cellular immunity in addition to antibody response in the general population.