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Background: The memory immune response is crucial for preventing reinfection or reducing disease severity. However, the robustness and functionality of the humoral and T-cell response to SARS-CoV-2 remains unknown 12 months after initial infection. The aim of this study is to investigate the durability and functionality of the humoral and T-cell response to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain and variants in recovered patients 12 months after infection. Methods: In this longitudinal cohort study, we recruited participants who had recovered from COVID-19 and who were discharged from the Wuhan Research Center for Communicable Disease Diagnosis and Treatment at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Wuhan, China, between Jan 7 and May 29, 2020. Patients received a follow-up visit between Dec 16, 2020, and Jan 27, 2021. We evaluated the presence of IgM, IgA, and IgG antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 nucleoprotein, Spike protein, and the receptor-binding domain 12 months after initial infection, using ELISA. Neutralising antibodies against the original SARS-CoV-2 strain, and the D614G, beta (B.1.351), and delta (B.1.617.2) variants were analysed using a microneutralisation assay in a subset of plasma samples. We analysed the magnitude and breadth of the SARS-CoV-2-specific memory T-cell responses using the interferon γ (IFNγ) enzyme-linked immune absorbent spot (ELISpot) assay and intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) assay. The antibody response and T-cell response (ie, IFN-γ, interleukin-2 [IL-2], and tumour necrosis factor α [TNFα]) were analysed by age and disease severity. Antibody titres were also analysed according to sequelae symptoms. Findings: We enrolled 1096 patients, including 289 (26·4%) patients with moderate initial disease, 734 (67·0%) with severe initial disease, and 73 (6·7%) with critical initial disease. Paired plasma samples were collected from 141 patients during the follow-up visits for the microneutralisation assay. PBMCs were collected from 92 of 141 individuals at the 12-month follow-up visit, of which 80 were analysed by ELISpot and 92 by ICS assay to detect the SARS-CoV-2-specific memory T-cell responses. N-IgG (899 [82·0%]), S-IgG (1043 [95·2%]), RBD-IgG (1032 [94·2%]), and neutralising (115 [81·6%] of 141) antibodies were detectable 12 months after initial infection in most individuals. Neutralising antibodies remained stable 6 and 12 months after initial infection in most individuals younger than 60 years. Multifunctional T-cell responses were detected for all SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins tested. There was no difference in the magnitude of T-cell responses or cytokine profiles in individuals with different symptom severity. Moreover, we evaluated both antibody and T-cell responses to the D614G, beta, and delta viral strains. The degree of reduced in-vitro neutralising antibody responses to the D614G and delta variants, but not to the beta variant, was associated with the neutralising antibody titres after SARS-CoV-2 infection. We also found poor neutralising antibody responses to the beta variant; 83 (72·2%) of 115 patients showed no response at all. Moreover, the neutralising antibody titre reduction of the recovered patient plasma against the delta variant was similar to that of the D614G variant and lower than that of the beta variant. By contrast, T-cell responses were cross-reactive to the beta variant in most individuals. Importantly, T-cell responses could be detected in all individuals who had lost the neutralising antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 12 months after the initial infection. Interpretation: SARS-CoV-2-specific neutralising antibody and T-cell responses were retained 12 months after initial infection. Neutralising antibodies to the D614G, beta, and delta viral strains were reduced compared with those for the original strain, and were diminished in general. Memory T-cell responses to the original strain were not disrupted by new variants. This study suggests that cross-reactive SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cell responses could be particularly important in the protection against severe disease caused by variants of concern whereas neutralising antibody responses seem to reduce over time. Funding: Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, National Natural Science Foundation, and UK Medical Research Council.

Original publication




Journal article


Lancet Microbe

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