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SARS-CoV-2 breakthrough infection in vaccinees induces virus-specific nasal-resident CD8+ and CD4+ T cells of broad specificity


Rapid recognition of SARS-CoV-2–infected cells by resident T cells in the upper airway might provide an important layer of protection against COVID-19. Whether parenteral SARS-CoV-2 vaccination or infection induces nasal-resident T cells specific for distinct SARS-CoV-2 proteins is unknown. We isolated T cells from the nasal mucosa of COVID-19 vaccinees who either experienced SARS-CoV-2 infection after vaccination (n = 34) or not (n = 16) and analyzed their phenotype, SARS-CoV-2 specificity, function, and persistence. Nasal-resident SARS-CoV-2–specific CD8+ and CD4+ T cells were detected almost exclusively in vaccinees who experienced SARS-CoV-2 breakthrough infection. Importantly, the Spike-specific T cells primed by vaccination did not suppress the induction of T cells specific for other SARS-CoV-2 proteins. The nasal-resident T cell responses persisted for ≥140 d, with minimal sign of waning. These data highlight the importance of viral nasal challenge in the formation of SARS-CoV-2–specific antiviral immunity at the site of primary infection and further define the immunological features of SARS-CoV-2 hybrid immunity.

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  • Mucosal Infections
  • Immune & Epithelial Interactions