Class I- and Class II-restricted epitopes have been identified across the SARS-CoV-2 structural proteome. Vaccine-induced and post-infection SARS-CoV-2 T-cell responses are associated with COVID-19 recovery and protection, but the precise role of T-cell responses remains unclear, and how post-infection vaccination ('hybrid immunity') further augments this immunity To accomplish these goals, we studied healthy adult healthcare workers who were (a) uninfected and unvaccinated (n = 12), (b) uninfected and vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech BNT162b2 vaccine (2 doses n = 177, one dose n = 1) or Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine (one dose, n = 1), and (c) previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and vaccinated (BNT162b2, two doses, n = 6, one dose n = 1; mRNA-1273 two doses, n = 1). Infection status was determined by repeated PCR testing of participants. We used FluoroSpot Interferon-gamma (IFN-Î³) and Interleukin-2 (IL-2) assays, using subpools of 15-mer peptides covering the S (10 subpools), N (4 subpools) and M (2 subpools) proteins. Responses were expressed as frequencies (percent positive responders) and magnitudes (spot forming cells/106 cytokine-producing peripheral blood mononuclear cells [PBMCs]). Almost all vaccinated participants with no prior infection exhibited IFN-Î³, IL-2 and IFN-Î³+IL2 responses to S glycoprotein subpools (89%, 93% and 27%, respectively) mainly directed to the S2 subunit and were more robust than responses to the N or M subpools. However, in previously infected and vaccinated participants IFN-Î³, IL-2 and IFN-Î³+IL2 responses to S subpools (100%, 100%, 88%) were substantially higher than vaccinated participants with no prior infection and were broader and directed against nine of the 10 S glycoprotein subpools spanning the S1 and S2 subunits, and all the N and M subpools. 50% of uninfected and unvaccinated individuals had IFN-Î³ but not IL2 or IFN-Î³+IL2 responses against one S and one M subpools that were not increased after vaccination of uninfected or SARS-CoV-2-infected participants. Summed IFN-Î³, IL-2, and IFN-Î³+IL2 responses to S correlated with IgG responses to the S glycoprotein. These studies demonstrated that vaccinations with BNT162b2 or mRNA-1273 results in T cell-specific responses primarily against epitopes in the S2 subunit of the S glycoprotein, and that individuals that are vaccinated after SARS-CoV-2 infection develop broader and greater T cell responses to S1 and S2 subunits as well as the N and M proteins.
Subject(s)COVID-19 , Interferon-gamma , Interleukin-2 , Adult , Humans , 2019-nCoV Vaccine mRNA-1273 , Antibodies, Viral , BNT162 Vaccine , COVID-19/prevention & control , Epitopes , Immunoglobulin G , Interferon-gamma/immunology , Interleukin-2/immunology , Leukocytes, Mononuclear , Proteome , SARS-CoV-2 , Vaccination
SARS-CoV-2 T cell responses are associated with COVID-19 recovery, and Class I- and Class II-restricted epitopes have been identified in the spike (S), nucleocapsid (N) and membrane (M) proteins and others. This prospective COVID-19 Health Action Response for Marines (CHARM) study enabled assessment of T cell responses against S, N and M proteins in symptomatic and asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infected participants. At enrollment all participants were negative by qPCR; follow-up occurred biweekly and bimonthly for the next 6 weeks. Study participants who tested positive by qPCR SARS-CoV-2 test were enrolled in an immune response sub-study. FluoroSpot interferon-gamma (IFN-Î³) and IL2 responses following qPCR-confirmed infection at enrollment (day 0), day 7 and 14 and more than 28 days later were measured using pools of 17mer peptides covering S, N, and M proteins, or CD4+CD8 peptide pools containing predicted epitopes from multiple SARS-CoV-2 antigens. Among 124 asymptomatic and 105 symptomatic participants, SARS-CoV-2 infection generated IFN-Î³ responses to the S, N and M proteins that persisted longer in asymptomatic cases. IFN-Î³ responses were significantly (p = 0.001) more frequent to the N pool (51.4%) than the M pool (18.9%) among asymptomatic but not symptomatic subjects. Asymptomatic IFN-Î³ responders to the CD4+CD8 pool responded more frequently to the S pool (55.6%) and N pool (57.1%), than the M pool (7.1%), but not symptomatic participants. The frequencies of IFN-Î³ responses to the S and N+M pools peaked 7 days after the positive qPCR test among asymptomatic (S pool: 22.2%; N+M pool: 28.7%) and symptomatic (S pool: 15.3%; N+M pool 21.9%) participants and dropped by >28 days. Magnitudes of post-infection IFN-Î³ and IL2 responses to the N+M pool were significantly correlated with IFN-Î³ and IL2 responses to the N and M pools. These data further support the central role of Th1-biased cell mediated immunity IFN-Î³ and IL2 responses, particularly to the N protein, in controlling COVID-19 symptoms, and justify T cell-based COVID-19 vaccines that include the N and S proteins.