Natural heteroclitic-like peptides are generated by SARS-CoV-2 mutations

iScience. 2023 Jun 16;26(6):106940. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2023.106940. Epub 2023 May 21.


Humoral immunity is sensitive to evasion by SARS-CoV-2 mutants, but CD8 T cells seem to be more resistant to mutational inactivation. By a systematic analysis of 30 spike variant peptides containing the most relevant VOC and VOI mutations that have accumulated overtime, we show that in vaccinated and convalescent subjects, mutated epitopes can have not only a neutral or inhibitory effect on CD8 T cell recognition but can also enhance or generate de novo CD8 T cell responses. The emergence of these mutated T cell function enhancing epitopes likely reflects an epiphenomenon of SARS-CoV-2 evolution driven by antibody evasion and increased virus transmissibility. In a subset of individuals with weak and narrowly focused CD8 T cell responses selection of these heteroclitic-like epitopes may bear clinical relevance by improving antiviral protection. The functional enhancing effect of these peptides is also worth of consideration for the future development of new generation, more potent COVID-19 vaccines.

Keywords: Immunology; Sequence analysis; Sequence homology; Virology.