Sophie Valkenburg and her team sign a major publication in Nature Communications, with Leo Poon and Malik Peiris, to understand the difference in SARS-CoV-2 specific T cell responses between children and adults.
SARS-CoV-2 infection of children leads to a mild illness and the immunological differences with adults are unclear. Here, we report SARS-CoV-2 specific T cell responses in infected adults and children and find that the acute and memory CD4+ T cell responses to structural SARS-CoV-2 proteins increase with age, whereas CD8+ T cell responses increase with time post-infection. Infected children have lower CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 structural and ORF1ab proteins when compared with infected adults, comparable T cell polyfunctionality and reduced CD4+ T cell effector memory. Compared with adults, children have lower levels of antibodies to β-coronaviruses, indicating differing baseline immunity.
Total T follicular helper responses are increased, whilst monocyte numbers are reduced, indicating rapid adaptive co-ordination of the T and B cell responses and differing levels of inflammation. Therefore, reduced prior β-coronavirus immunity and reduced T cell activation in children might drive milder COVID-19 pathogenesis.