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Functional SARS-CoV-2-specific immune memory persists after mild COVID-19

OPEN medRxiv : the preprint server for health sciences | 21 Aug 2020

LB Rodda, J Netland, L Shehata, KB Pruner, PM Morawski, C Thouvenel, KK Takehara, J Eggenberger, EA Hemann, HR Waterman, ML Fahning, Y Chen, J Rathe, C Stokes, S Wrenn, B Fiala, LP Carter, JA Hamerman, NP King, M Gale, DJ Campbell, D Rawlings and M Pepper
The recently emerged SARS-CoV-2 virus is currently causing a global pandemic and cases continue to rise. The majority of infected individuals experience mildly symptomatic coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), but it is unknown whether this can induce persistent immune memory that might contribute to herd immunity. Thus, we performed a longitudinal assessment of individuals recovered from mildly symptomatic COVID-19 to determine if they develop and sustain immunological memory against the virus. We found that recovered individuals developed SARS-CoV-2-specific IgG antibody and neutralizing plasma, as well as virus-specific memory B and T cells that not only persisted, but in some cases increased numerically over three months following symptom onset. Furthermore, the SARS-CoV-2-specific memory lymphocytes exhibited characteristics associated with potent antiviral immunity: memory T cells secreted IFN-γ and expanded upon antigen re-encounter, while memory B cells expressed receptors capable of neutralizing virus when expressed as antibodies. These findings demonstrate that mild COVID-19 elicits memory lymphocytes that persist and display functional hallmarks associated with antiviral protective immunity.
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