Product(s) used in this publication: PepMix™ Peptide Pools
Efforts are being made worldwide to understand the immune response to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus responsible for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, including the impact of T cell immunity and cross-recognition with seasonal coronaviruses. Screening of SARS-CoV-2 peptide pools revealed that the nucleocapsid (N) protein induced an immunodominant response in HLA-B7+ COVID-19-recovered individuals that was also detectable in unexposed donors. A single N-encoded epitope that was highly conserved across circulating coronaviruses drove this immunodominant response. In vitro peptide stimulation and crystal structure analyses revealed T cell-mediated cross-reactivity toward circulating OC43 and HKU-1 betacoronaviruses but not 229E or NL63 alphacoronaviruses because of different peptide conformations. T cell receptor (TCR) sequencing indicated that cross-reactivity was driven by private TCR repertoires with a bias for TRBV27 and a long CDR3β loop. Our findings demonstrate the basis of selective T cell cross-reactivity for an immunodominant SARS-CoV-2 epitope and its homologs from seasonal coronaviruses, suggesting long-lasting protective immunity.