Virus-specific memory CD8 T cells provide substantial protection from lethal severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection

J Virol. 2014 Oct;88(19):11034-44. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01505-14. Epub 2014 Jul 23.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) caused an acute human respiratory illness with high morbidity and mortality in 2002-2003. Several studies have demonstrated the role of neutralizing antibodies induced by the spike (S) glycoprotein in protecting susceptible hosts from lethal infection. However, the anti-SARS-CoV antibody response is short-lived in patients who have recovered from SARS, making it critical to develop additional vaccine strategies. SARS-CoV-specific memory CD8 T cells persisted for up to 6 years after SARS-CoV infection, a time at which memory B cells and antivirus antibodies were undetectable in individuals who had recovered from SARS. In this study, we assessed the ability of virus-specific memory CD8 T cells to mediate protection against infection in the absence of SARS-CoV-specific memory CD4 T or B cells. We demonstrate that memory CD8 T cells specific for a single immunodominant epitope (S436 or S525) substantially protected 8- to 10-month-old mice from lethal SARS-CoV infection. Intravenous immunization with peptide-loaded dendritic cells (DCs) followed by intranasal boosting with recombinant vaccinia virus (rVV) encoding S436 or S525 resulted in accumulation of virus-specific memory CD8 T cells in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BAL), lungs, and spleen. Upon challenge with a lethal dose of SARS-CoV, virus-specific memory CD8 T cells efficiently produced multiple effector cytokines (gamma interferon [IFN-γ], tumor necrosis factor alpha [TNF-α], and interleukin 2 [IL-2]) and cytolytic molecules (granzyme B) and reduced lung viral loads. Overall, our results show that SARS-CoV-specific memory CD8 T cells protect susceptible hosts from lethal SARS-CoV infection, but they also suggest that SARS-CoV-specific CD4 T cell and antibody responses are necessary for complete protection.

Importance: Virus-specific CD8 T cells are required for pathogen clearance following primary SARS-CoV infection. However, the role of SARS-CoV-specific memory CD8 T cells in mediating protection after SARS-CoV challenge has not been previously investigated. In this study, using a prime-boost immunization approach, we showed that virus-specific CD8 T cells protect susceptible 8- to 10-month-old mice from lethal SARS-CoV challenge. Thus, future vaccines against emerging coronaviruses should emphasize the generation of a memory CD8 T cell response for optimal protection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / biosynthesis*
  • Antigens, Viral / chemistry
  • Antigens, Viral / genetics
  • Antigens, Viral / immunology*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / transplantation
  • Dendritic Cells / virology
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / genetics
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Active
  • Immunity, Cellular / drug effects
  • Immunity, Humoral / drug effects
  • Immunization
  • Immunologic Memory*
  • Mice
  • Peptides / administration & dosage
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / immunology
  • SARS Virus / immunology*
  • SARS Virus / pathogenicity
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / immunology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / mortality
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / prevention & control*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / virology
  • Survival Analysis


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Antigens, Viral
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • Peptides