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T-cell immunity against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 proteins in patients with type 1 diabetes.

AIMS: Individuals with type 1 diabetes (T1D) do not appear to have an elevated risk of severe Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19). Pre-existing immune reactivity to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in unexposed individuals may serve as a protective factor. Hence, our study was designed to evaluate the existence of T cells with reactivity against SARS-CoV-2 antigens in unexposed patients with T1D.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were collected from SARS-CoV-2 unexposed patients with T1D and healthy control subjects. SARS-CoV-2 specific T cells were identified in PBMCs by ex-vivo interferon (IFN)γ-ELISpot and flow cytometric assays. The epitope specificity of T cells in T1D was inferred through T Cell Receptor sequencing and GLIPH2 clustering analysis.

RESULTS: T1D patients unexposed to SARS-CoV-2 exhibited higher rates of virus-specific T cells than controls. The T cells primarily responded to peptides from the ORF7/8, ORF3a, and nucleocapsid proteins. Nucleocapsid peptides predominantly indicated a CD4+ response, whereas ORF3a and ORF7/8 peptides elicited both CD4+ and CD8+ responses. The GLIPH2 clustering analysis of TCRβ sequences suggested that TCRβ clusters, associated with the autoantigens proinsulin and Zinc transporter 8 (ZnT-8), might share specificity towards ORF7b and ORF3a viral epitopes. Notably, PBMCs from three T1D patients exhibited T cell reactivity against both ORF7b/ORF3a viral epitopes and proinsulin/ZnT-8 autoantigens.

CONCLUSIONS: The increased frequency of SAR-CoV-2- reactive T cells in T1D patients might protect against severe COVID-19 and overt infections. These results emphasise the long-standing association between viral infections and T1D.

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