SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells exhibit unique features reflecting robust helper function, lack of terminal differentiation, and high proliferative potential

bioRxiv. 2020 Aug 3;2020.06.08.138826. doi: 10.1101/2020.06.08.138826. Preprint


Convalescing COVID-19 patients mount robust T cell responses against SARS-CoV-2, suggesting an important role for T cells in viral clearance. To date, the phenotypes of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells remain poorly defined. Using 38-parameter CyTOF, we phenotyped longitudinal specimens of SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells from nine individuals who recovered from mild COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4+ T cells were exclusively Th1 cells, and predominantly Tcm with phenotypic features of robust helper function. SARS-CoV-2-specific CD8+ T cells were predominantly Temra cells in a state of less terminal differentiation than most Temra cells. Subsets of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells express CD127, can homeostatically proliferate, and can persist for over two months. Our results suggest that long-lived and robust T cell immunity is generated following natural SARS-CoV-2 infection, and support an important role for SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells in host control of COVID-19.

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