Long-Term SARS-CoV-2-Specific Immune and Inflammatory Responses Across a Clinically Diverse Cohort of Individuals Recovering from COVID-19

medRxiv. 2021 Mar 1;2021.02.26.21252308. doi: 10.1101/2021.02.26.21252308. Preprint


A detailed understanding of long-term SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell responses and their relationship to humoral immunity and markers of inflammation in diverse groups of individuals representing the spectrum of COVID-19 illness and recovery is urgently needed. Data are also lacking as to whether and how adaptive immune and inflammatory responses differ in individuals that experience persistent symptomatic sequelae months following acute infection compared to those with complete, rapid recovery. We measured SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell responses, soluble markers of inflammation, and antibody levels and neutralization capacity longitudinally up to 9 months following infection in a diverse group of 70 individuals with PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection. The participants had varying degrees of initial disease severity and were enrolled in the northern California Long-term Impact of Infection with Novel Coronavirus (LIINC) cohort. Adaptive T cell responses remained remarkably stable in all participants across disease severity during the entire study interval. Whereas the magnitude of the early CD4+ T cell immune response is determined by the severity of initial infection (participants requiring hospitalization or intensive care), pre-existing lung disease was significantly associated with higher long-term SARS-CoV2-specific CD8+ T cell responses, independent of initial disease severity or age. Neutralizing antibody levels were strongly correlated with SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4+ T but not CD8+ T cell responses. Importantly, we did not identify substantial differences in long-term virus-specific T cell or antibody responses between participants with and without COVID-19-related symptoms that persist months after initial infection.

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