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The dichotomous and incomplete adaptive immunity in COVID-19

By Leiqiong Gao, Jing Zhou, Sen Yang, Xiangyu Chen, Yang Yang, Ren Li, Zhiwei Pan, Jing Zhao, Zhirong Li, Qizhao Huang, Jianfang Tang, Li Hu, Pinghuang Liu, Guozhong Zhang, Yaokai Chen, Lilin Ye

Posted 07 Sep 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.09.05.20187435

The adaptive immunity that protects patients from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is not well characterized. In particular, the asymptomatic patients have been found to induce weak and transient SARS-CoV-2 antibody responses, but the underlying mechanisms remain unknown; meanwhile, the protective immunity that guide the recovery of these asymptomatic patients is also not well studied. Here, we characterized SARS-CoV-2-specific B-cell and T-cell responses in 10 asymptomatic patients and 49 patients with other disease severity (mild, n=10, moderate, n=32, severe, n=7) and found that asymptomatic or mild symptomatic patients failed to mount virus-specific germinal center (GC) B cell responses that result in robust and long-term humoral immunity, assessed by GC response indicators including follicular helper T (TFH) cell and memory B cell responses as well as serum CXCL13 levels. Alternatively, these patients mounted potent virus-specific TH1 and CD8+ T cell responses. In sharp contrast, patients of moderate or severe disease induced vigorous virus-specific GC B cell responses and associated TFH responses; however, the virus-specific TH1 and CD8+ T cells were minimally induced in these patients. These results therefore uncovered the protective immunity in asymptomatic patients and revealed the strikingly dichotomous and unbalanced humoral and cellular immune responses in COVID-19 patients with different disease severity, providing important insights into rational design of COVID-19 vaccines.

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