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Effective vaccines should confer long-term protection against future outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) caused by a novel zoonotic coronavirus (SARS-CoV) with unknown animal reservoirs. We conducted a cohort study examining multiple parameters of immune responses to SARS-CoV infection, aiming to identify the immune correlates of protection. We used a matrix of overlapping peptides spanning whole SARS-CoV proteome to determine T cell responses from 128 SARS convalescent samples by ex vivo IFN-gamma ELISPOT assays. Approximately 50% of convalescent SARS patients were positive for T cell responses, and 90% possessed strongly neutralizing Abs. Fifty-five novel T cell epitopes were identified, with spike protein dominating total T cell responses. CD8(+) T cell responses were more frequent and of a greater magnitude than CD4(+) T cell responses (p < 0.001). Polychromatic cytometry analysis indicated that the virus-specific T cells from the severe group tended to be a central memory phenotype (CD27(+)/CD45RO(+)) with a significantly higher frequency of polyfunctional CD4(+) T cells producing IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha, and IL-2, and CD8(+) T cells producing IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha, and CD107a (degranulation), as compared with the mild-moderate group. Strong T cell responses correlated significantly (p < 0.05) with higher neutralizing Ab. The serum cytokine profile during acute infection indicated a significant elevation of innate immune responses. Increased Th2 cytokines were observed in patients with fatal infection. Our study provides a roadmap for the immunogenicity of SARS-CoV and types of immune responses that may be responsible for the virus clearance, and should serve as a benchmark for SARS-CoV vaccine design and evaluation.

Original publication




Journal article


J Immunol

Publication Date





5490 - 5500


Adult, Antibodies, Viral, CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cohort Studies, Cytokines, Female, Humans, Immunologic Memory, Leukocyte Common Antigens, Lysosomal-Associated Membrane Protein 1, Male, Middle Aged, Proteome, SARS Virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Th2 Cells, Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Superfamily, Member 7, Viral Vaccines