Home world T Cells From Common Colds Cross-Protect Against COVID-19 Infection

T Cells From Common Colds Cross-Protect Against COVID-19 Infection

Beating COVID-19 Coronavirus

Beating COVID-19 Coronavirus

A new study, published in Nature Communications and led by

The researchers found that there were significantly higher levels of these cross-reactive T cells in the 26 people who did not become infected, compared to the 26 people who did become infected. These T cells targeted internal proteins within the SARS-CoV-2 virus, rather than the spike protein on the surface of the virus, to protect against infection.[2]

Current vaccines do not induce an immune response to these internal proteins. The researchers say that – alongside our existing effective spike protein-targeting vaccines – these internal proteins offer a new vaccine target that could provide long-lasting protection because T cell responses persist longer than antibody responses which wane within a few months of vaccination.

Professor Ajit Lalvani, senior author of the study and Director of the NIHR Respiratory Infections Health Protection Research Unit at Imperial, says: “Our study provides the clearest evidence to date that T cells induced by common cold coronaviruses play a protective role against SARS-CoV-2 infection. These T cells provide protection by attacking proteins within the virus, rather than the spike protein on its surface.

“The spike protein is under intense immune pressure from vaccine-induced antibody which drives evolution of vaccine escape mutants. In contrast, the internal proteins targeted by the protective T cells we identified mutate much less. Consequently, they are highly conserved between the various SARS-CoV-2 variants, including omicron. New vaccines that include these conserved, internal proteins would therefore induce broadly protective T cell responses that should protect against current and future SARS-CoV-2 variants.”

The researchers note some limitations to their study, including that, because it is small and 88% of participants were of white European ethnicity, it is not possible for them to model demographic factors.


  1. These included external surface proteins (spike, membrane and envelope proteins) on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and internal proteins, including nucleocapsid (which packages the virus’ genetic material) and ORF1 (a part of SARS-CoV-2’s replicative machinery).
  2. The targeted internal proteins of SARS-CoV-2 included nucleocapsid and ORF1 only

Reference: “Cross-reactive memory T cells associate with protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection in COVID-19 contacts” by Rhia Kundu, Janakan Sam Narean, Lulu Wang, Joseph Fenn, Timesh Pillay, Nieves Derqui Fernandez, Emily Conibear, Aleksandra Koycheva, Megan Davies, Mica Tolosa-Wright, Seran Hakki, Robert Varro, Eimear McDermott, Sarah Hammett, Jessica Cutajar, Ryan S. Thwaites, Eleanor Parker, Carolina Rosadas, Myra McClure, Richard Tedder, Graham P. Taylor, Jake Dunning and Ajit Lalvani, 10 January 2022, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27674-x

The study was funded by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Respiratory Infections and the Medical Research Council.

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