Immune T cell defense is coping with COVID-19 variants of concern – for now

Dec. 2, 2022
Broad T-cell response is currently protective but recognition of seven out of ten T-cell targets mutated in SARS-CoV-2 variants is impaired.

Immune T-cells are continuing to target the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, although mutations are making some T cells less effective, according to new research.

Published in Nature Immunology, researchers from the University of Birmingham have shown that human T-cell immunity is currently coping with mutations that have accumulated over time in COVID-19 variants.

In the study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, the research partner of the NHS, the researchers tested CD4+ T-cells collected at the start of the pandemic from healthcare workers infected with COVID-19.

Some of the T-cells were still able to recognize parts of the spike protein, called epitopes, unaltered in later virus strains including the current Omicron variant. However, T-cell recognition was worse against seven out of ten epitopes mutated in different variants of concern.

The researchers caution that as SARS-CoV-2 continues to mutate, T-cell recognition of additional epitopes could be lost decreasing overall protection by the immune system.

University of Birmingham release