DOI: 10.3390/vaccines12010015 ISSN: 2076-393X

Assessment of Human SARS CoV-2-Specific T-Cell Responses Elicited In Vitro by New Computationally Designed mRNA Immunogens (COVARNA)

Ignasi Esteban, Carmen Pastor-Quiñones, Lorena Usero, Elena Aurrecoechea, Lorenzo Franceschini, Arthur Esprit, Josep Lluís Gelpí, Francisco Martínez-Jiménez, Núria López-Bigas, Karine Breckpot, Kris Thielemans, Lorna Leal, Carmen Elena Gómez, Marta Sisteré-Oró, Andreas Meyerhans, Mariano Esteban, María José Alonso, Felipe García, Montserrat Plana
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Drug Discovery
  • Pharmacology
  • Immunology

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant changes and advances in the field of vaccination, including the implementation and widespread use of encapsidated mRNA vaccines in general healthcare practice. Here, we present two new mRNAs expressing antigenic parts of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and provide data supporting their functionality. The first mRNA, called RBD-mRNA, encodes a trimeric form of the virus spike protein receptor binding domain (RBD). The other mRNA, termed T-mRNA, codes for the relevant HLA I and II spike epitopes. The two mRNAs (COVARNA mRNAs) were designed to be used for delivery to cells in combination, with the RBD-mRNA being the primary source of antigen and the T-mRNA working as an enhancer of immunogenicity by supporting CD4 and CD8 T-cell activation. This innovative approach substantially differs from other available mRNA vaccines, which are largely directed to antibody production by the entire spike protein. In this study, we first show that both mRNAs are functionally transfected into human antigen-presenting cells (APCs). We obtained peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) samples from three groups of voluntary donors differing in their immunity against SARS-CoV-2: non-infected (naïve), infected-recovered (convalescent), and vaccinated. Using an established method of co-culturing autologous human dendritic cells (hDCs) with T-cells, we detected proliferation and cytokine secretion, thus demonstrating the ability of the COVARNA mRNAs to activate T-cells in an antigen-specific way. Interestingly, important differences in the intensity of the response between the infected-recovered (convalescent) and vaccinated donors were observed, with the levels of T-cell proliferation and cytokine secretion (IFNγ, IL-2R, and IL-13) being higher in the vaccinated group. In summary, our data support the further study of these mRNAs as a combined approach for future use as a vaccine.

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