T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 in people with and without neurologic symptoms of long COVID

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2022 Oct 21:2021.08.08.21261763. doi: 10.1101/2021.08.08.21261763.


Many people experiencing long COVID syndrome, or post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), suffer from debilitating neurologic symptoms (Neuro-PASC). However, whether virus-specific adaptive immunity is affected in Neuro-PASC patients remains poorly understood. We report that Neuro-PASC patients exhibit distinct immunological signatures composed of elevated humoral and cellular responses toward SARS-CoV-2 Nucleocapsid protein at an average of 6 months post-infection compared to healthy COVID convalescents. Neuro-PASC patients also had enhanced virus-specific production of IL-6 from and diminished activation of CD8+ T cells. Furthermore, the severity of cognitive deficits or quality of life disturbances in Neuro-PASC patients were associated with a reduced diversity of effector molecule expression in T cells but elevated IFN-γ production to the C-terminal domain of Nucleocapsid protein. Proteomics analysis showed enhanced plasma immunoregulatory proteins and reduced pro-inflammatory and antiviral response proteins in Neuro-PASC patients compared with healthy COVID convalescents, which were also correlated with worse neurocognitive dysfunction. These data provide new insight into the pathogenesis of long COVID syndrome and a framework for the rational design of predictive biomarkers and therapeutic interventions.

Keywords: COVID-19 immunity; Neuro-PASC; T cell memory; immunoregulation; long COVID; proteomics.

Publication types

  • Preprint