A COVID-fighter’s guide to T cells

New LJI review shows how T cells target more than 1,400 sites on SARS-CoV-2
La Jolla Institute for Immunology

Newswise — LA JOLLA—In a new paper, scientists from La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) bring together research findings from COVID-19 researchers around the world. The results are striking: human T cells can target more than 1,400 sites on the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Our lab and many others have shown this very broad and diverse T cell response,” says LJI Research Assistant Professor Daniela Weiskopf, Ph.D., co-author of the Cell Host & Microbe review.

This kind of research review, called a “meta-analysis,” pools the results of multiple studies, and the researchers give close consideration to how the studies were conducted. 

In the case of COVID-19, a global meta-analysis of T cell response studies is especially helpful because different patient populations can have vastly different immune responses, based on their genetic differences and past disease history.

“This really highlights how the study of SARS-CoV-2 has been a global undertaking,” says LJI Professor Alessandro Sette, Dr.Biol.Sci, senior author of the review and member of the LJI Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research. “To combine information from all the different labs is a powerful thing.”

Key points:

  • The researchers evaluated all 25 known human T cell response studies conducted between the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and March 15, 2021.
  • The studies show human T cell responses against 1,434 CD4 and CD8 epitopes. Epitopes are sites on SARS-CoV-2 that T cells can recognize.
  • Grouping these studies together for this larger analysis has revealed several “immunodominant” sites on the virus. These sites are where T cells are most prone to homing in on.
  • This broad T cell response makes it difficult for SARS-CoV-2 variants to acquire enough mutations to “escape” the body’s response against the virus.

Sette adds that this analysis can help researchers monitor whether T cells are mounting effective responses as they encounter viral variants—and vaccines. “Knowing what the key sites on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein are especially important for monitoring immune responses to COVID-19 vaccines,” he says.

Despite these encouraging results, the review is limited. The researchers emphasize that current studies tend to include mainly Caucasian participants. By broadening this research to include many ethnic groups, the researchers can better understand disparities in COVID-19 mortality.

Specifically, the researchers want to understand how variations in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system affects T cell responses. The immune system’s HLA molecules control which epitopes a T cell can “see.” The frequency of different HLA molecule types varies between ethnic groups, so research need to consider how these differences affect T cell responses and potentially COVID-19 case severity.

“This is a global pandemic, so it is important that we expand our studies,” says LJI Instructor Alba Grifoni, Ph.D., who served as first author of the review. 

The new review also highlights the value of the Immune Epitope Database (IEDB), a free, LJI-run resource funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). By adding the known epitope data to the IEDB, the researchers were able to see the different study results side-by-side.

“We know there is a strong T cell response to SARS-CoV-2,” says Grifoni. “Now we are trying to identify where we have knowledge gaps.”

The review, “SARS-CoV-2 Human T cell Epitopes: adaptive immune response against COVID-19,” was supported by the National Institute of Health (contracts 75N93019C00001 and 75N9301900065). 

Additional review authors include John Sidney, Randi Vita, Bjoern Peters and Shane Crotty.

DOI: 10.1016/j.chom.2021.05.010


About La Jolla Institute for Immunology

The La Jolla Institute for Immunology is dedicated to understanding the intricacies and power of the immune system so that we may apply that knowledge to promote human health and prevent a wide range of diseases. Since its founding in 1988 as an independent, nonprofit research organization, the Institute has made numerous advances leading toward its goal: life without disease.


Filters close

Showing results

110 of 6084
Newswise: Public
Released: 28-Jul-2021 2:45 PM EDT
Highly Potent, Stable Nanobodies Stop SARS-CoV-2
Max Planck Society (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft)

Göttingen researchers have developed mini-antibodies that efficiently block the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and its dangerous new variants.

Newswise: Public
Released: 28-Jul-2021 2:20 PM EDT
Psychological Consequences of COVID-19 in Health Care
University of Bonn

Physicians, nursing staff, medical technical assistants, and pastoral workers in hospitals: they have all been placed under severe strain by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Newswise: Public
Released: 28-Jul-2021 2:10 PM EDT
Why Lockdown in Africa Does Not Work as a First COVID-19 Pandemic Response
University of Johannesburg

In an African pandemic it is more productive to consider lockdowns, after using other non-medical measures first, Especially in countries with high levels of poverty and corruption, says Prof Nicholas Ngepah, a Professor of Economics at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

Newswise:Video Embedded how-to-talk-with-people-who-are-not-vaccinated-against-covid-19
Released: 28-Jul-2021 1:40 PM EDT
How to Talk With People Who Are Not Vaccinated Against COVID-19

Even though she has asthma, putting her at higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19, Angela Reeves-Flores, 33, waited until a week ago to get vaccinated.

Newswise: Indian Women’s Nutrition Suffered During COVID-19 Lockdown
Released: 28-Jul-2021 12:50 PM EDT
Indian Women’s Nutrition Suffered During COVID-19 Lockdown
Cornell University

A new study from Cornell University finds the nationwide lockdown India imposed last year in response to COVID-19 caused disruptions that negatively impacted women’s nutrition.

Released: 28-Jul-2021 12:00 PM EDT
MD Anderson Research Highlights for July 28, 2021
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Research Highlights provides a glimpse into recently published studies in basic, translational and clinical cancer research from MD Anderson experts. Current advances include a newly discovered protein that controls B cell survival, understanding epigenetic changes in malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNSTs) and melanoma, identifying a protein that protect genome stability, developing novel cell therapies for COVID-19, a new option for treating neuropathic pain, exosome delivery of CRISPR/Cas9 to pancreatic cancer, discovering how cancer cells tolerate aneuploidy and the role of health disparities in long-term survival of adolescent and young adult patients with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Released: 28-Jul-2021 11:30 AM EDT
Study Reveals Characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein
University of Kentucky

A new University of Kentucky College of Medicine study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry provides foundational information about SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein.

access_time Embargo lifts in 2 days
Embargo will expire: 4-Aug-2021 9:00 AM EDT Released to reporters: 28-Jul-2021 11:15 AM EDT

A reporter's PressPass is required to access this story until the embargo expires on 4-Aug-2021 9:00 AM EDT The Newswise PressPass gives verified journalists access to embargoed stories. Please log in to complete a presspass application. If you have not yet registered, please Register. When you fill out the registration form, please identify yourself as a reporter in order to advance to the presspass application form.

Newswise: UIC Awarded $6 Million to Develop Potential COVID-19 Treatment
Released: 28-Jul-2021 10:15 AM EDT
UIC Awarded $6 Million to Develop Potential COVID-19 Treatment
University of Illinois Chicago

Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago are developing a potential treatment for COVID-19, thanks to a $6 million technology and therapeutic development award from the U.S. Department of Defense supporting pre-clinical animal studies.

Newswise: Don’t Let the Raging Virus Put Life in Jeopardy. Chula Recommends How to Build an Immunity for Your Heart Against Stress and Depression
Released: 28-Jul-2021 8:55 AM EDT
Don’t Let the Raging Virus Put Life in Jeopardy. Chula Recommends How to Build an Immunity for Your Heart Against Stress and Depression
Chulalongkorn University

Cumulative stress, denial, and chronic depression are the byproducts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Psychological Wellness, Chulalongkorn University recommends ways to cope by harnessing positive energy from our heart.

Showing results

110 of 6084