Background: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) has led to considerable morbidity/mortality worldwide, but most infections, especially among children, have a mild course. However, it remains largely unknown whether infected children develop cellular immune memory. Methods: To determine whether a memory T cell response is being developed as an indicator for long-term immune protection, we performed a longitudinal assessment of the SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell response by IFN-γ ELISPOT and activation marker expression analyses of peripheral blood samples from children and adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19. Results: Upon stimulation of PBMCs with heat-inactivated SARS-CoV-2 or overlapping peptides of spike (S-SARS-CoV-2) and nucleocapsid proteins, we found S-SARS-CoV-2-specific IFN-ɣ T cell responses in most infected children (83%) and all adults (100%) that were absent in unexposed controls. Frequencies of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells were higher in infected adults, especially in those with moderate symptoms, compared to infected children. The S-SARS-CoV-2 IFN-ɣ T cell response correlated with S1-SARS-CoV-2-specific serum IgM, IgG, and IgA antibody concentrations. Predominantly, effector memory CD4+ T cells of a Th1 phenotype were activated upon exposure to SARS-CoV-2 antigens, which persisted for 4-8 weeks after symptom onset. We detected very low frequencies of SARS-CoV-2-reactive CD8+ T cells in these individuals. Conclusions: Our data indicate that an antigen-specific memory CD4+ T cell response is induced in children and adults with mild SARS-CoV-2 infection. T cell immunity induced after mild COVID-19 could contribute to protection against re-infection.
Competing Interest Statement
The authors have declared no competing interest.
This work was supported by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.
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The protocol for the SARS-CoV-2-related study, based on the WHO First Few Hundred protocol, was approved by the Medical-Ethical Review Committee of University Medical Center Utrecht (NL13529.041.06). Protocols for the cohort studies with unexposed children (Immfact, NL4679.094.13) and adults (NVI-255, NL29241.000.09) were approved by Medical-Ethical Review Committees of the Netherlands.
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Paper in collection COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 preprints from medRxiv and bioRxiv