T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 following infection and vaccination are less characterised than antibody responses, due to a more complex experimental pathway.We measured T cell responses in 108 healthcare workers (HCWs) using the commercialised Oxford Immunotec T-SPOT Discovery SARS-CoV-2 assay service (OI T-SPOT) and the PITCH ELISpot protocol established for academic research settings. Both assays detected T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 spike, membrane and nucleocapsid proteins. Responses were significantly lower when reported by OI T-SPOT than by PITCH ELISpot. Four weeks after two doses of either Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 AZD1222 vaccine, the responder rate was 63% for OI T-SPOT Panels1 + 2 (peptides representing SARS-CoV-2 spike protein excluding regions present in seasonal coronaviruses), 69% for OI T-SPOT Panel 14 (peptides representing the entire SARS-CoV-2 spike), and 94% for the PITCH ELISpot assay. The two OI T-SPOT panels correlated strongly with each other showing that either readout quantifies spike-specific T cell responses, although the correlation between the OI T-SPOT panels and the PITCH ELISpot was moderate. The standardisation, relative scalability and longer interval between blood acquisition and processing are advantages of the commercial OI T-SPOT assay. However, the OI T-SPOT assay measures T cell responses at a significantly lower magnitude compared to the PITCH ELISpot assay, detecting T cell responses in a lower proportion of vaccinees. This has implications for the reporting of low-level T cell responses that may be observed in patient populations and for the assessment of T cell durability after vaccination.
Clinical and experimental immunology
Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.