The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has become a public health emergency. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and fatigue. While most patients with COVID-19 present with mild illness, some patients develop pneumonia, an important risk factor for mortality, at early stage of viral infection, putting these patients at increased risk of death. So far, little has been known about differences in the T cell repertoires between COVID-19 patients with and without pneumonia during SARS-CoV-2 infection. Herein, we aimed to investigate T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire profiles and patient-specific SARS-CoV-2-associated TCR clusters between COVID-19 patients with mild disease (no sign of pneumonia) and pneumonia. The TCR sequencing was conducted to characterize the peripheral TCR repertoire profile and diversity. The TCR clustering and CDR3 annotation were exploited to further discover groups of patient-specific TCR clonotypes with potential SARS-CoV-2 antigen specificities. Our study indicated a slight decrease in the TCR repertoire diversity and a skewed CDR3 length usage in patients with pneumonia compared to those with mild disease. The SARS-CoV-2-associated TCR clusters enriched in patients with mild disease exhibited significantly higher TCR generation probabilities and most of which were highly shared among patients, compared with those from pneumonia patients. Importantly, using similarity network-based clustering followed by the sequence conservation analysis, we found different patterns of CDR3 sequence motifs between mild disease- and pneumonia-specific SARS-CoV-2-associated public TCR clusters. Our results showed that characteristics of overall TCR repertoire and SARS-CoV-2-associated TCR clusters/clonotypes were divergent between COVID-19 patients with mild disease and patients with pneumonia. These findings provide important insights into the correlation between the TCR repertoire and disease severity in COVID-19 patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1131-1145
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Clinical Immunology
Issue number6
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • T cell receptor
  • TCR repertoire
  • TCR sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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