Rapid, simplified whole blood-based multiparameter assay to quantify and phenotype SARS-CoV-2 specific T cells

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Rapid tests to evaluate SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell responses are urgently needed to decipher protective immunity and aid monitoring vaccine-induced immunity. Using a rapid whole blood assay requiring minimal amount of blood, we measured qualitatively and quantitatively SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4T cell responses in 31 healthcare workers, using flow cytometry. 100% of COVID-19 convalescent participants displayed a detectable SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4T cell response. SARS-CoV-2-responding cells were also detected in 40.9% of participants with no COVID-19-associated symptoms or who tested PCR negative. Phenotypic assessment indicated that, in COVID-19 convalescent participants, SARS-CoV-2 CD4 responses displayed an early differentiated memory phenotype with limited capacity to produce IFNɣ. Conversely, in participants with no reported symptoms, SARS-CoV-2 CD4 responses were enriched in late differentiated cells, co-expressing IFNɣ and TNFα and also Granzyme B. This proof-of-concept study presents a scalable alternative to PBMC-based assays to enumerate and phenotype SARS-CoV-2-responding T cells, thus representing a practical tool to monitor adaptive immunity due to natural infection or vaccine trials.

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