Memory T cell responses have been demonstrated in COVID-19 convalescents, but ex vivo phenotypes of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells have been unclear. We detected SARS-CoV-2-specific CD8+ T cells by MHC class I multimer staining and examined their phenotypes and functions in acute and convalescent COVID-19. Multimer+ cells exhibited early differentiated effector-memory phenotypes in the early convalescent phase. The frequency of stem-like memory cells was increased among multimer+ cells in the late convalescent phase. Cytokine secretion assays combined with MHC class I multimer staining revealed that the proportion of interferon-γ (IFN-γ)-producing cells was significantly lower among SARS-CoV-2-specific CD8+ T cells than those specific to influenza A virus. Importantly, the proportion of IFN-γ-producing cells was higher in PD-1+ cells than PD-1- cells among multimer+ cells, indicating that PD-1-expressing, SARS-CoV-2-specific CD8+ T cells are not exhausted, but functional. Our current findings provide information for understanding of SARS-CoV-2-specific CD8+ T cells elicited by infection or vaccination.
Keywords: CD8(+) T cell; COVID-19; IFN-γ; MHC class I multimer; Memory T cell; PD-1; SARS-CoV-2.
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