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Impaired cellular immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in severe COVID-19 patients

By Ling Ni, Meng-Li Cheng, Hui Zhao, Yu Feng, Jingyuan Liu, Fang Ye, Qing Ye, Gengzhen Zhu, Xiaoli Li, Pengzhi Wang, Jing Shao, Yong-qiang Deng, Peng Wei, Fang Chen, Cheng-feng Qin, Guoqing Wang, Fan Li, Hui Zeng, Chen Dong

Posted 12 Aug 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.08.10.20171371

The World Health Organization has declared SARS-CoV-2 virus outbreak a world-wide pandemic. Individuals infected by the virus exhibited different degrees of symptoms, the basis of which remains largely unclear. Currently, though convalescent individuals have been shown with both cellular and humoral immune responses, there is very limited understanding on the immune responses, especially adaptive immune responses, in patients with severe COVID-19. Here, we examined 10 blood samples from COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The majority of them (70%) mounted SARS-CoV-2-specific humoral immunity with production of neutralizing antibodies. However, compared to healthy controls, the percentages and absolute numbers of both NK cells and CD8+ T cells were significantly reduced, accompanied with decreased IFNg expression in CD4+ T cells in peripheral blood from severe patients. Most notably, we failed in detecting SARS-CoV-2-specific IFNg production by peripheral blood lymphocytes from these patients. Our work thus indicates that COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms are associated with defective cellular immunity, which not only provides insights on understanding the pathogenesis of COVID-19, but also has implications in developing an effective vaccine to SARS-CoV-2.

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