SARS-CoV-2-derived peptides define heterologous and COVID-19-induced T cell recognition

Nat Immunol. 2020 Sep 30. doi: 10.1038/s41590-020-00808-x. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

T cell immunity is central for the control of viral infections. To characterize T cell immunity, but also for the development of vaccines, identification of exact viral T cell epitopes is fundamental. Here we identify and characterize multiple dominant and subdominant SARS-CoV-2 HLA class I and HLA-DR peptides as potential T cell epitopes in COVID-19 convalescent and unexposed individuals. SARS-CoV-2-specific peptides enabled detection of post-infectious T cell immunity, even in seronegative convalescent individuals. Cross-reactive SARS-CoV-2 peptides revealed pre-existing T cell responses in 81% of unexposed individuals and validated similarity with common cold coronaviruses, providing a functional basis for heterologous immunity in SARS-CoV-2 infection. Diversity of SARS-CoV-2 T cell responses was associated with mild symptoms of COVID-19, providing evidence that immunity requires recognition of multiple epitopes. Together, the proposed SARS-CoV-2 T cell epitopes enable identification of heterologous and post-infectious T cell immunity and facilitate development of diagnostic, preventive and therapeutic measures for COVID-19.