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Protective heterologous T cell immunity in COVID-19 induced by MMR and Tdap vaccine antigens

By Tanya Mayadas, Vijayashree Mysore, Xavier Cullere, Matthew L Settles, Michael Kattan, Xinge Ji, Michael Desjardins, Blythe Durbin-Johnson, Tal Gilboa, Lindsey Baden, David R. Walt, Lichtman Andrew, Lara Jehi

Posted 04 May 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.05.03.441323

T cells are critical for control of viral infection and effective vaccination. We investigated whether prior Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) or Tetanus-Diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccination elicit cross-reactive T cells that mitigate COVID-19. Using co-cultures of antigen presenting cells (APC) loaded with antigens and autologous T cells, we found a high correlation between responses to SARS-CoV-2 (Spike-S1 and Nucleocapsid) and MMR and Tdap vaccine proteins in both SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals and individuals immunized with mRNA-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. The overlapping T cell population contained effector memory T cells (TEMRA) previously implicated in anti-viral immunity and their activation required APC-derived IL-15. TCR- and scRNA-sequencing detected cross-reactive clones with TEMRA features among the cells recognizing SARS-CoV-2, MMR and Tdap epitopes. A propensity-weighted analysis of 73,582 COVID-19 patients revealed that severe disease outcomes (hospitalization and transfer to intensive care unit or death) were reduced in MMR or Tdap vaccinated individuals by 38-32% and 23-20% respectively. In summary, SARS-CoV-2 re-activates memory T cells generated by Tdap and MMR vaccines, which may reduce disease severity.

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