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While many agree on the importance of antibodies in SARS-CoV-2 infection, T cells have also taken the spotlight as a key contributor to immunity. Published in The Journal of Immunology, Drs. Tania Watts and Mario Ostrowski, from University of Toronto, found that SARS-CoV-2 recovered patients have strong T cell responses.
The authors examined the phenotype, activity and proliferation capacity of T cell after in vitro stimulation with either SARS-CoV-2 or seasonal influenza proteins in the same individuals. They used flow cytometry assays to characterize the T cells and measured cytokine production, using intracellular staining as well as multiplex assays. Most individuals showed a memory SARS-CoV-2 response from one type of T cell called CD4+T cell at 4-12 weeks after initial symptoms. Furthermore, people that recovered from COVID-19 had high levels of an inflammatory marker called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and less of interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) in response to SARS-CoV-2 proteins than in response to seasonal influenza.
All in all, CD4+T cells had higher inflammatory characteristics and showed a weaker capacity to help trigger antibody production as a response to SARS-CoV-2, which suggests that they provide less protection than the response generated by the seasonal influenza virus.
Law JC, Koh WH, Budylowski P, Lin J, Yue F, Abe KT, Rathod B, Girard M, Li Z, Rini JM, Mubareka S, McGeer A, Chan AK, Gingras AC, Watts TH, A Ostrowski M. Systematic examination of antigen-specific recall T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 versus influenza virus reveals a distinct inflammatory profile. J Immunol. 2021 Jan 1;206(1):37-50. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.2001067.