T cells are involved in control of COVID-19, but limited knowledge is available on the relationship between antigen-specific T cell response and disease severity. Here, we assessed the magnitude, function and phenotype of SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4 T cells in 95 hospitalized COVID-19 patients (38 of them being HIV-1 and/or tuberculosis (TB) co-infected) and 38 non-COVID-19 patients, using flow cytometry. We showed that SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4 T cell attributes, rather than magnitude, associates with disease severity, with severe disease being characterized by poor polyfunctional potential, reduced proliferation capacity and enhanced HLA-DR expression. Moreover, HIV-1 and TB co-infection skewed the SARS-CoV-2 T cell response. HIV-1 mediated CD4 T cell depletion associated with suboptimal T cell and humoral immune responses to SARS-CoV-2; and a decrease in the polyfunctional capacity of SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4 T cells was observed in COVID-19 patients with active TB. Our results also revealed that COVID-19 patients displayed reduced frequency of Mtb-specific CD4 T cells, with possible implications for TB disease progression. There results corroborate the important role of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells in COVID-19 pathogenesis and support the concept of altered T cell functions in patients with severe disease.
Catherine Riou, Elsa Du Bruyn, Cari Stek, Remy Daroowala, Rene T. Goliath, Fatima Abrahams, Qonita Said-Hartley, Brian W. Allwood, Nei-Yuan Hsiao, Katalin A. Wilkinson, Cecilia S. Lindestam Arlehamn, Alessandro Sette, Sean Wasserman, Robert J. Wilkinson