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 T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire. Here, we characterized the TCR repertoire of MIS-C patients and found a profound expansion of TCRβ variable gene 11-2 (TRBV11-2), 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 complementarity-determining region 3 (CDR3) length distribution of MIS-C expanded TRBV11-2 clones revealed extensive junctional diversity. Patients with TRBV11-2 expansion shared HLA class I alleles A02, B35, and C04, indicating what we believe is a novel mechanism for CDR3-independent T cell expansion. In silico modeling indicated that polyacidic residues in the Vβ chain encoded by TRBV11-2 (Vβ21.3) 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