Prevalent and immunodominant CD8 T cell epitopes are conserved in SARS-CoV-2 variants

Cell Rep. 2023 Jan 31;42(1):111995. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2023.111995. Epub 2023 Jan 9.


The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC) is driven by mutations that mediate escape from neutralizing antibodies. There is also evidence that mutations can cause loss of T cell epitopes. However, studies on viral escape from T cell immunity have been hampered by uncertain estimates of epitope prevalence. Here, we map and quantify CD8 T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2-specific minimal epitopes in blood drawn from April to June 2020 from 83 COVID-19 convalescents. Among 37 HLA ligands eluted from five prevalent alleles and an additional 86 predicted binders, we identify 29 epitopes with an immunoprevalence ranging from 3% to 100% among individuals expressing the relevant HLA allele. Mutations in VOC are reported in 10.3% of the epitopes, while 20.6% of the non-immunogenic peptides are mutated in VOC. The nine most prevalent epitopes are conserved in VOC. Thus, comprehensive mapping of epitope prevalence does not provide evidence that mutations in VOC are driven by escape of T cell immunity.

Keywords: CD8 T cell; CP: Immunology; CP: Microbiology; SARS-CoV-2; epitope; immunodominance; immunoprevalence.