Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a hyperinflammatory syndrome associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection, shares clinical features with toxic shock syndrome, which is triggered by bacterial superantigens. Superantigen specificity for different Vβ-chains results in Vβ-skewing, whereby T cells with specific Vβ-chains and diverse antigen specificity are overrepresented in the TCR repertoire. Here, we characterized the TCR repertoire of MIS-C patients and found a profound expansion of TCR Βeta Variable gene (TRBV)11-2, with up to 24% of clonal T cell space occupied by TRBV11-2 T cells, which correlated with MIS-C severity and serum cytokine levels. Analysis of TRBJ gene usage and CDR3 length distribution of MIS-C expanded TRBV11-2 clones revealed extensive junctional diversity. Patients with TRBV11-2 expansion showed HLA class I allele restriction to HLA-I A02, C35 and C04, indicating a novel mechanism for CDR3-independent T cell expansion. In silico modelling indicated that polyacidic residues in the Vβ chain encoded by TRBV11-2 strongly interact with the superantigen-like motif of SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein, suggesting that unprocessed SARS-CoV-2 spike may directly mediate TRBV11-2 expansion. Overall, our data indicate that a CDR3-independent interaction between SARS-CoV-2 spike and TCR leads to T cell expansion and possibly activation, which may account for the clinical presentation of MIS-C.
Rebecca A. Porritt, Lisa Paschold, Magali Noval Rivas, Mary Hongying Cheng, Lael M. Yonker, Harsha Chandnani, Merrick Lopez, Donjete Simnica, Christoph Schultheiß, Chintda Santiskulvong, Jennifer van Eyk, John K. McCormick, Alessio Fasano, Ivet Bahar, Mascha Binder, Moshe Arditi