The identification of CD4+ T cell epitopes is instrumental for the design of subunit vaccines for broad protection against coronaviruses. Here, we demonstrate in COVID-19-recovered individuals a robust CD4+ T cell response to naturally processed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike (S) protein and nucleoprotein (N), including effector, helper, and memory T cells. By characterizing 2943 S-reactive T cell clones from 34 individuals, we found that the receptor-binding domain (RBD) is highly immunogenic and that 33% of RBD-reactive clones and 94% of individuals recognized a conserved immunodominant S346-S365 region comprising nested human leukocyte antigen DR (HLA-DR)- and HLA-DP-restricted epitopes. Using pre- and post-COVID-19 samples and S proteins from endemic coronaviruses, we identified cross-reactive T cells targeting multiple S protein sites. The immunodominant and cross-reactive epitopes identified can inform vaccination strategies to counteract emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Copyright © 2021 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.