As a result of these efforts some promising aspects of the immunological response have been revealed. Primary among the results of these accumulated data is the fact that individuals infected with this virus harbor T-cells – an important subset of circulating lymphocytes that play a critical role in the human immunological response – that actively target the virus and may assist in recovery. In addition, it seems that some individuals who have never been infected with COVID-19, have these cellular defenses – suggesting that this potential immunological defense arose; because they were previously infected with other coronaviruses that cause the common cold.
Helper T Cells
These findings provide suggestive evidence that the potent T cell responses that were shown to exist may play an important role in long-term protective immunity. In addition, a more complete understanding of how the human body responds to this particular virus will undoubtedly enhance the search for an effective prophylactic vaccine.
There are more than 100 COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of development focusing on a wide rage of modalities. Within the arsenal of the so-called “adaptive” arm of the human immune system are circulating B and T lymphocytes. The B cells are responsible for the production of antibodies against particular targets. The mechanism that the immune system employs in this regard is that the B cell produced in response to exposure to the virus is to attach itself to the viral particle and prevent it from entering healthy tissue cells. This role can be exploited in the development of a vaccine. In addition, to this part of the natural arsenal against infection, there are circulating T cells that can activate and enhance B cell response. In addition to these players, there are killer T cells that actually target and destroy tissue cells that have been infected. Given the interrelationship of these defense mechanisms, there is a correlation between the severity of the disease and the strength of the T cell responses.
Shane Crotty and Alessandro Sette – immunologists from the La Jolla Institute of Immunology – determined what proteins from the surface of COVID-19 particles were most likely to stimulate immune response and subsequently exposed cells grown in culture (in-vitro) from 10 patients who had recovered from mild cases of COVID-19 to these virally-derived protein pieces. In all the samples studied, the patients carried helper T cells that were specific for the COVID-19 spike protein – the predominant protein of the viral surface that is involved in targeting tissue cells. In addition, 70% of the patients studied showed the presence of virus-specific killer T cells. Whether these patients also acquired long term immunity is not completely clear. These data, however, are very encouraging.
Although not unambiguous, these results are of great interest and suggest that an effective vaccine against COVID-19 infection needs to stimulate the production of helper T cells.