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The peripheral T cell population is associated with pneumonia severity in cynomolgus monkeys experimentally infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2

By Noriyo Nagata, Naoko Iwata-Yoshikawa, Kaori Sano, Akira Ainai, Nozomi Shiwa, Masayuki Shirakura, Noriko Kishida, Tomoko Arita, Yasushi Suzuki, Toshihiko Harada, Yasuhiro Kawai, Yasushi Ami, Shun Iida, Harutaka Katano, Seiichiro Fujisaki, Tsuyoshi Sekizuka, Hiroyuki Shimizu, Tadaki Suzuki, Hideki Hasegawa

Posted 07 Jan 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.07.425698

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is a global pandemic that began in December 2019. Lymphopenia is a common feature in severe cases of COVID-19; however, the role of T cell responses during infection is unclear. Here, we inoculated six cynomolgus monkeys, divided into two groups according to the CD3+ T cell population in peripheral blood, with two clinical isolates of SARS-CoV-2: one of East Asian lineage and one of European lineage. After initial infection with the isolate of East Asian lineage, all three monkeys in the CD3+ low group showed clinical symptoms, including loss of appetite, lethargy, and transient severe anemia with/without short-term fever, within 14 days post-infection (p.i.). By contrast, all three monkeys in the CD3+ high group showed mild clinical symptoms such as mild fever and loss of appetite within 4 days p.i. and then recovered. After a second inoculation with the isolate of European lineage, three of four animals in both groups showed mild clinical symptoms but recovered quickly. Hematological, immunological, and serological tests suggested that the CD3+ high and low groups mounted different immune responses during the initial and second infection stages. In both groups, anti-viral and innate immune responses were activated during the early phase of infection and re-infection. However, in the CD3+ low group, inflammatory responses, such as increased production of monocytes and neutrophils, were stronger than those in the CD3+ high group, leading to more severe immunopathology and failure to eliminate the virus. Taken together, the data suggest that the peripheral T lymphocyte population is associated with pneumonia severity in cynomolgus monkeys experimentally infected with SARS-CoV-2. Author summarySARS-CoV-2 infection causes an illness with clinical manifestations that vary from asymptomatic or mild to severe; examples include severe pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Lymphopenia, which is common in severe COVID-19 cases, is characterized by markedly reduced numbers of CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells. Here, we showed that cynomolgus monkeys selected according to the T cell populations in peripheral blood have different outcomes after experimental infection with SARS-CoV-2. These findings will increase our understanding of disease pathogenesis and may facilitate the development of animal models for vaccine evaluation.

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