Recent data demonstrate potentially protective pre-existing T cells reactive against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in samples of healthy blood donors, collected before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Whether pre-existing immunity is also detectable in immunosuppressed patients is currently not known.
Fifty-seven patients were included in this case-control study. We compared the frequency of SARS-CoV-2-reactive T cells in the samples of 20 renal transplant (RTx) patients to 20 age/gender matched non-immunosuppressed/immune competent healthy individuals collected before the onset of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Seventeen coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients were used as positive controls. T cell reactivity against Spike-, Nucleocapsid-, and Membrane- SARS-CoV-2 proteins were analyzed by multi-parameter flow cytometry. Antibodies were analyzed by neutralization assay.
Pre-existing SARS-CoV-2-reactive T cells were detected in the majority of unexposed patients and healthy individuals. In RTx patients, 13/20 showed CD4 T cells reactive against at least one SARS-CoV-2 protein. CD8 T cells reactive against at least one SARS-CoV-2 protein were demonstrated in 12/20 of RTx patients. The frequency and Th1 cytokine expression pattern of pre-formed SARS-CoV-2 reactive T cells did not differ between RTx and non-immunosuppressed healthy individuals.
This study shows that the magnitude and functionality of pre-existing SARS-CoV-2 reactive T cell in transplant patients is non-inferior compared to the immune competent cohort. Although several pro-inflammatory cytokines were produced by the detected T cells, further studies are required to prove their antiviral protection.