Memory T cell responses targeting the SARS coronavirus persist up to 11 years post-infection

Vaccine. 2016 Apr 12;34(17):2008-14. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.02.063. Epub 2016 Mar 5.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a highly contagious infectious disease which first emerged in late 2002, caused by a then novel human coronavirus, SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The virus is believed to have originated from bats and transmitted to human through intermediate animals such as civet cats. The re-emergence of SARS-CoV remains a valid concern due to the continual persistence of zoonotic SARS-CoVs and SARS-like CoVs (SL-CoVs) in bat reservoirs. In this study, the screening for the presence of SARS-specific T cells in a cohort of three SARS-recovered individuals at 9 and 11 years post-infection was carried out, and all memory T cell responses detected target the SARS-CoV structural proteins. Two CD8(+) T cell responses targeting the SARS-CoV membrane (M) and nucleocapsid (N) proteins were characterized by determining their HLA restriction and minimal T cell epitope regions. Furthermore, these responses were found to persist up to 11 years post-infection. An absence of cross-reactivity of these CD8(+) T cell responses against the newly-emerged Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was also demonstrated. The knowledge of the persistence of SARS-specific celullar immunity targeting the viral structural proteins in SARS-recovered individuals is important in the design and development of SARS vaccines, which are currently unavailable.

Keywords: Epitope; Immunity; SARS-CoV; T cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Coronavirus M Proteins
  • Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins
  • Cross Reactions
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular*
  • Immunologic Memory*
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus
  • Nucleocapsid Proteins / immunology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / immunology*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / immunology


  • Coronavirus M Proteins
  • Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • M protein, SARS-CoV
  • Nucleocapsid Proteins
  • Viral Matrix Proteins