The SARS-COV-2 T-Cell Immunity is Directed Against the Spike, Membrane, and Nucleocapsid Protein and Associated with COVID 19 Severity
27 Pages Posted: 21 May 2020 Publication Status: Under ReviewMore...
Identification of immunogenic targets of SARS-CoV-2 is crucial for monitoring of antiviral immunity and vaccine design. Currently, mainly anti-spike (S)-protein adaptive immunity is investigated. However, also the nucleocapsid (N)- and membrane (M)-proteins should be considered as diagnostic and prophylactic targets.The aim of our study was to explore and compare the immunogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 S-, M- and N-proteins in context of different COVID-19 manifestations. Analyzing a cohort of COVID-19 patients with moderate, severe, and critical disease severity, we show that overlapping peptide pools (OPP) of all three proteins can activate SARS-CoV-2-reactive T-cells with a stronger response of CD4 + compared to CD8 + T-cells. Although interindividual variations for the three proteins were observed, M‑protein induced the highest frequencies of CD4 + T-cells, suggesting its relevance as diagnostic and vaccination target. Importantly, patients with critical COVID-19 demonstrated the strongest T-cell response, including the highest frequencies of cytokine-producing bi- and trifunctional T-cells, for all three proteins. Although the higher magnitude and superior functionality of SARS-CoV-2-reactive T-cells in critical patients can also be a result of a stronger immunogenicity provided by severe infection, it disproves the hypothesis of insufficient SARS-CoV-2-reactive immunity in critical COVID-19. To this end, activation of effector T-cells with differentiated memory phenotype found in our study could cause hyper-reactive response in critical cases leading to immunopathogenesis.Conclusively, since the S-, M-, and N-proteins induce T-cell responses with individual differences, all three proteins should be evaluated for diagnostics and therapeutic strategies to avoid underestimation of cellular immunity and to deepen our understanding of COVID-19 immunity.
Funding: This work was supported by grants of Mercator Foundation, the BMBF e:KID (01ZX1612A), and BMBF NoChro (FKZ 13GW0338B).
Declaration of Interest: Missing
Ethical Statement: We feel deep gratitude to the patients who donated their blood samples and clinical data for this project.
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