T cell immunity is key to the pandemic endgame: How to measure and monitor it

Megan Schwarz, Slim Mzoughi, Daniel Lozano-Ojalvo, Anthony T. Tan, Antonio Bertoletti, Ernesto Guccione

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


As vaccine deployment improves the healthcare emergency status caused by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, we need reliable tools to evaluate the duration of protective immunity at a global scale. Seminal studies have demonstrated that while neutralizing antibodies can protect us from viral infection, T cell-mediated cellular immunity provides long-term protection from severe COVID-19, even in the case of emerging new variants of concern (VOC). Indeed, the emergence of VOCs, able to substantially escape antibodies generated by current vaccines, has made the analysis of correlates of humoral protection against infection obsolete. The focus should now shift towards immunological correlates of protection from disease based on quantification of cellular immunity. Despite this evidence, an assessment of T cell responses is still overlooked. This is largely due to technical challenges and lack of validated diagnostic tests. Here, we review the current state of the art of available tests to distinguish between SARS-CoV-2 antigen-specific Tcells and non-antigen specific T-cells. These assays range from the analysis of the T cell-receptor (TCR) diversity (i.e. Immunoseq and MHC tetramer staining) to the detection of functional T cell activation (i.e. ICS, AIM, Elispot, ELLA, dqTACT, etc.) either from purified Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells (PBMCs) or whole blood. We discuss advantages and disadvantages of each assay, proposing their ideal use for different scopes. Finally, we argue how it is paramount to deploy cheap, standardized, and scalable assays to measure T cell functionality to fill this critical diagnostic gap and manage these next years of the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-221
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Research in Immunology
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Cellular immunity
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • T-cells
  • qPCR


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