We identify amino acid variants within dominant SARS-CoV-2 T cell epitopes by interrogating global sequence data. Several variants within nucleocapsid and ORF3a epitopes have arisen independently in multiple lineages and result in loss of recognition by epitope-specific T cells assessed by IFN-γ and cytotoxic killing assays. Complete loss of T cell responsiveness was seen due to Q213K in the A∗01:01-restricted CD8+ ORF3a epitope FTSDYYQLY207-215; due to P13L, P13S, and P13T in the B∗27:05-restricted CD8+ nucleocapsid epitope QRNAPRITF9-17; and due to T362I and P365S in the A∗03:01/A∗11:01-restricted CD8+ nucleocapsid epitope KTFPPTEPK361-369. CD8+ T cell lines unable to recognize variant epitopes have diverse T cell receptor repertoires. These data demonstrate the potential for T cell evasion and highlight the need for ongoing surveillance for variants capable of escaping T cell as well as humoral immunity.
Immune response, Immunology, Molecular biology, Phylogenetics, Virology