CD4+ T cells from COVID-19 mRNA vaccine recipients recognize a conserved epitope present in diverse coronaviruses

ARTICLE: CD4+ T cells from COVID-19 mRNA vaccine recipients recognize a conserved epitope present in diverse coronaviruses

AUTHORS: Bezawit A Woldemeskel, Arbor G Dykema, Caroline C Garliss, Saphira Cherfils, Kellie N Smith, Joel N Blankson

JOURNAL: J Clin Invest. 2022 Mar 1;132(5):e156083. doi: 10.1172/JCI156083.

Abstract

Recent studies have shown that vaccinated individuals harbor T cells that can cross-recognize SARS-CoV-2 and endemic human common cold coronaviruses. However, it is still unknown whether CD4+ T cells from vaccinated individuals recognize peptides from bat coronaviruses that may have the potential of causing future pandemics. In this study, we identified a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein epitope (S815-827) that is conserved in coronaviruses from different genera and subgenera, including SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, multiple bat coronaviruses, and a feline coronavirus. Our results showed that S815-827 was recognized by 42% of vaccinated participants in our study who received the Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) or Moderna (mRNA-1273) COVID-19 vaccines. Using T cell expansion and T cell receptor sequencing assays, we demonstrated that S815-827-reactive CD4+ T cells from the majority of responders cross-recognized homologous peptides from at least 6 other diverse coronaviruses. Our results support the hypothesis that the current mRNA vaccines elicit T cell responses that can cross-recognize bat coronaviruses and thus might induce some protection against potential zoonotic outbreaks. Furthermore, our data provide important insights that inform the development of T cell-based pan-coronavirus vaccine strategies.

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