A whole blood test to measure SARS-CoV-2-specific response in COVID-19 patients

Linda Petrone, Elisa Petruccioli, Valentina Vanini, Gilda Cuzzi, Saeid Najafi Fard, Tonino Alonzi, Concetta Castilletti, Fabrizio Palmieri, Gina Gualano, Pietro Vittozzi, Emanuele Nicastri, Luciana Lepore, Andrea Antinori, Alessandra Vergori, Nadia Caccamo, Fabrizio Cantini, Enrico Girardi, Giuseppe Ippolito, Alba Grifoni, Delia Goletti

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Objectives: To examine whether specific T-cell-responses to SARS-CoV-2 peptides can be detected in COVID-19 using a whole-blood experimental setting, which may be further explored as a potential diagnostic tool. Methods: We evaluated interferon (IFN)-γ levels after stimulating whole-blood with spike and remainder-antigens peptides megapools (MP) derived from SARS-CoV-2 sequences; interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-1RA, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-7, IL-8, IL-9, IL-10, IL-12p70, IL-13, IL-15, IL-17A, eotaxin, basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF), granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF), granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), IFN-γ, Interferon gamma-induced protein 10 (IP-10), monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-1α, MIP-1β, Platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), RANTES (regulated on activation, normal T cell expressed and secreted), tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) were also evaluated. Results: IFN-γ-response to spike and remainder-antigens MPs was significantly increased in 35 COVID-19 patients compared with 29 ‘no COVID-19’ individuals (medians spike-MP: 0.26 vs 0, p = 0.0002; medians remainder-antigens-MP: 0.07 vs 0.02; p = 0.02). This response was detected independently of patients' clinical parameters. IFN-γ-response to SARS-CoV-2-unrelated antigens cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B (SEB) was similar in COVID-19 compared with ‘no COVID-19’ individuals (median CMV: 3.46 vs 5.28, p = 0.16; median SEB: 12.68 vs 15.05; p = 0.1). In response to spike-MPs in COVID-19- compared with ‘no COVID-19’ -individuals, we found significant higher median of IL-2 (50.08 vs 0, p = 0.0018), IFN-γ (90.16 vs 0, p = 0.01), IL-4 (0.52 vs 0, p = 0.03), IL-13 (0.84 vs 0, p = 0.007) and MCP-1 (4602 vs 359.2, p = 0.05). Conclusions: Immune response to SARS-CoV-2 peptides in a whole-blood assay is associated with COVID-19 and it is characterized by both Th1 and Th2 profile. This experimental approach may be useful for developing new T-cell based diagnostic tests for disease and vaccine settings.
Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Microbiology and Infection
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2021

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