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PLoS Pathog ; 17(9): e1009842, 2021 09.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1416911


The aim of this study was to define the breadth and specificity of dominant SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell epitopes using a comprehensive set of 135 overlapping 15-mer peptides covering the SARS-CoV-2 envelope (E), membrane (M) and nucleoprotein (N) in a cohort of 34 individuals with acute (n = 10) and resolved (n = 24) COVID-19. Following short-term virus-specific in vitro cultivation, the single peptide-specific CD4+ T cell response of each patient was screened using enzyme linked immuno spot assay (ELISpot) and confirmed by single-peptide intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) for interferon-γ (IFN-γ) production. 97% (n = 33) of patients elicited one or more N, M or E-specific CD4+ T cell responses and each patient targeted on average 21.7 (range 0-79) peptide specificities. Overall, we identified 10 N, M or E-specific peptides that showed a response frequency of more than 36% and five of them showed high binding affinity to multiple HLA class II binders in subsequent in vitro HLA binding assays. Three peptides elicited CD4+ T cell responses in more than 55% of all patients, namely Mem_P30 (aa146-160), Mem_P36 (aa176-190), both located within the M protein, and Ncl_P18 (aa86-100) located within the N protein. These peptides were further defined in terms of length and HLA restriction. Based on this epitope and restriction data we developed a novel DRB*11 tetramer (Mem_aa145-164) and examined the ex vivo phenotype of SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4+ T cells in one patient. This detailed characterization of single T cell peptide responses demonstrates that SARS-CoV-2 infection universally primes a broad T cell response directed against multiple specificities located within the N, M and E structural protein.

CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes/immunology , COVID-19/immunology , SARS-CoV-2/immunology , Acute Disease , Adult , Aged , Cohort Studies , Coronavirus Envelope Proteins/immunology , Coronavirus Nucleocapsid Proteins/immunology , Enzyme-Linked Immunospot Assay , Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte/immunology , Female , Humans , Male , Middle Aged , Phosphoproteins/immunology , Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus/immunology , Survivors , T-Cell Antigen Receptor Specificity , Viral Matrix Proteins/immunology
Sci Immunol ; 6(56)2021 02 23.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1099742


Hyperinflammation contributes to lung injury and subsequent acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) with high mortality in patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). To understand the underlying mechanisms involved in lung pathology, we investigated the role of the lung-specific immune response. We profiled immune cells in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and blood collected from COVID-19 patients with severe disease and bacterial pneumonia patients not associated with viral infection. By tracking T cell clones across tissues, we identified clonally expanded tissue-resident memory-like Th17 cells (Trm17 cells) in the lungs even after viral clearance. These Trm17 cells were characterized by a a potentially pathogenic cytokine expression profile of IL17A and CSF2 (GM-CSF). Interactome analysis suggests that Trm17 cells can interact with lung macrophages and cytotoxic CD8+ T cells, which have been associated with disease severity and lung damage. High IL-17A and GM-CSF protein levels in the serum of COVID-19 patients were associated with a more severe clinical course. Collectively, our study suggests that pulmonary Trm17 cells are one potential orchestrator of the hyperinflammation in severe COVID-19.

COVID-19/immunology , Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor/metabolism , Immunologic Memory , Lung/immunology , Th17 Cells/metabolism , Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid/cytology , Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid/immunology , COVID-19/complications , COVID-19/pathology , Clone Cells , Humans , Inflammation/etiology , Inflammation/immunology , Lung/pathology , Myeloid Cells , Pneumonia, Bacterial/immunology , Th17 Cells/immunology
Front Immunol ; 11: 1870, 2020.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-776203


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) which is caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus is a severe flu-like illness which is associated with hyperinflammation and immune dysfunction. The virus induces a strong T and B cell response but little is known about the immune pathology of this viral infection. Acute Plasmodium falciparum malaria also causes acute clinical illness and is characterized by hyperinflammation due to the strong production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and a massive activation of T cells. In malaria, T cells express a variety of co-inhibitory receptors which might be a consequence of their activation but also might limit their overwhelming function. Thus, T cells are implicated in protection as well as in pathology. The outcome of malaria is thought to be a consequence of the balance between co-activation and co-inhibition of T cells. Following the hypothesis that T cells in COVID-19 might have a similar, dual function, we comprehensively characterized the differentiation (CCR7, CD45RO) and activation status (HLA-DR, CD38, CD69, CD226), the co-expression of co-inhibitory molecules (PD1, TIM-3, LAG-3, BTLA, TIGIT), as well as the expression pattern of the transcription factors T-bet and eomes of CD8+ and CD4+ T cells of PBMC of n = 20 SARS-CoV-2 patients compared to n = 10 P. falciparum infected patients and n = 13 healthy controls. Overall, acute COVID-19 and malaria infection resulted in a comparably elevated activation and altered differentiation status of the CD8+ and CD4+ T cell populations. T effector cells of COVID-19 and malaria patients showed higher frequencies of the inhibitory receptors T-cell immunoglobulin mucin-3 (TIM-3) and Lymphocyte-activation gene-3 (LAG-3) which was linked to increased activation levels and an upregulation of the transcription factors T-bet and eomes. COVID-19 patients with a more severe disease course showed higher levels of LAG-3 and TIM-3 than patients with a mild disease course. During recovery, a rapid normalization of these inhibitory receptors could be observed. In summary, comparing the expression of different co-inhibitory molecules in CD8+ and CD4+ T cells in COVID-19 vs. malaria, there is a transient increase of the expression of certain inhibitory receptors like LAG-3 and TIM-3 in COVID-19 in the overall context of acute immune activation.

Antigens, CD/metabolism , Betacoronavirus/genetics , CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes/immunology , CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes/immunology , Coronavirus Infections/immunology , Hepatitis A Virus Cellular Receptor 2/metabolism , Lymphocyte Activation/immunology , Malaria, Falciparum/immunology , Plasmodium falciparum/isolation & purification , Pneumonia, Viral/immunology , Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell/metabolism , Acute Disease , Adult , Aged , COVID-19 , Cells, Cultured , Cohort Studies , Coronavirus Infections/virology , Female , Humans , Malaria, Falciparum/parasitology , Male , Middle Aged , Pandemics , Pneumonia, Viral/virology , Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor/metabolism , SARS-CoV-2 , Severity of Illness Index