Expanded specific T cells to hypomutated regions of the SARS-CoV-2 using mRNA electroporated antigen-presenting cells

Mol Ther Methods Clin Dev. 2024 Jan 22;32(1):101192. doi: 10.1016/j.omtm.2024.101192. eCollection 2024 Mar 14.


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused about seven million deaths worldwide. Preventative vaccines have been developed including Spike gp mRNA-based vaccines that provide protection to immunocompetent patients. However, patients with primary immunodeficiencies, patients with cancer, or hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients are not able to mount robust immune responses against current vaccine approaches. We propose to target structural SARS-CoV-2 antigens (i.e., Spike gp, Membrane, Nucleocapsid, and Envelope) using circulating human antigen-presenting cells electroporated with full length SARS-CoV-2 structural protein-encoding mRNAs to activate and expand specific T cells. Based on the Th1-type cytokine and cytolytic enzyme secretion upon antigen rechallenge, we were able to generate SARS-CoV-2 specific T cells in up to 70% of unexposed unvaccinated healthy donors (HDs) after 3 subsequent stimulations and in 100% of recovered patients (RPs) after 2 stimulations. By means of SARS-CoV-2 specific TCRβ repertoire analysis, T cells specific to Spike gp-derived hypomutated regions were identified in HDs and RPs despite viral genomic evolution. Hence, we demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 mRNA-loaded antigen-presenting cells are effective activating and expanding COVID19-specific T cells. This approach represents an alternative to patients who are not able to mount adaptive immune responses to current COVID-19 vaccines with potential protection across new variants that have conserved genetic regions.

Keywords: RNA-based immunotherapy; SARS-CoV-2; adoptive T cells; antigen-presenting cells; hypomutated regions.