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SARS-CoV-2 reactive T cells in uninfected individuals are likely expanded by beta-coronaviruses

By Ulrik Stervbo, S. Rahmann, Toralf Roch, Timm H. Westhof, Nina Babel

Posted 01 Jul 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.07.01.182741

The current pandemic is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and large progress in understanding the pathology of the virus has been made since its emergence in late 2019. Several reports indicate short lasting immunity against endemic coronaviruses, which contrasts repeated reports that biobanked venous blood contains SARS-CoV-2 reactive T cells even before the outbreak in Wuhan. This suggests there exists a preformed T cell memory in individuals not exposed to the pandemic virus. Given the similarity of SARS-CoV-2 to other members of the Coronaviridae family , the endemic coronaviruses appear likely candidates to generate this T cell memory. However, given the apparent poor immunological memory created by the endemic coronaviruses, other immunity against other common pathogens might offer an alternative explanation. Here, we utilize a combination of epitope prediction and similarity to common human pathogens to identify potential sources of the SARS-CoV-2 T cell memory. We find that no common human virus, other than beta-coronaviruses, can explain the pre-existing SARS-CoV-2 reactive T cells in uninfected individuals. Our study suggests OC43 and HKU1 are the most likely pathogens giving rise to SARS-CoV-2 preformed immunity. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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