Landscape and Selection of Vaccine Epitopes in SARS-CoV-2

Published: 11 May 2021| Version 6 | DOI: 10.17632/c6pdfrwxgj.6
Christof C Smith


Early in the pandemic, we designed a SARS-CoV-2 peptide vaccine containing epitope regions optimized for concurrent B cell, CD4+ T cell, and CD8+ T cell stimulation. The rationale for this design was to drive both humoral and cellular immunity with high specificity while avoiding undesired effects such as antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). In this study, we combine computational prediction of T cell epitopes, recently published B cell epitope mapping studies, and epitope accessibility to select candidate peptide vaccines for SARS-CoV-2. We begin with an exploration of the space of possible T cell epitopes in SARS-CoV-2 with interrogation of predicted HLA-I and HLA-II ligands, overlap between predicted ligands, protein source, as well as concurrent human/murine coverage. Beyond MHC affinity, T cell vaccine candidates were further refined by predicted immunogenicity, viral source protein abundance, sequence conservation, coverage of high frequency HLA alleles and co-localization of CD4+ and CD8+ T cell epitopes. B cell epitope regions were chosen from linear epitope mapping studies of convalescent patient serum, followed by filtering to select regions with surface accessibility, high sequence conservation, spatial localization near functional domains of the spike glycoprotein, and avoidance of glycosylation sites. From 58 initial candidates, three B cell epitope regions were identified. By combining these B cell and T cell analyses, as well as a manufacturability heuristic, we propose a set of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine peptides for use in subsequent murine studies. The immunogenicity of the selected peptides was validated using ELISpot and ELISA following murine vaccination. We also curated a dataset of almost a thousand observed T-cell epitopes from convalescent COVID-19 patients across eight studies. Our vaccine selection process appears to be effective at predicting recurrent T-cell epitopes and strong T-cell responses were observed in mice following vaccination. Humoral responses were deficient, likely due to the unrestricted conformational space inhabited by linear vaccine peptides. Overall, we find our selection process and vaccine formulation to be appropriate for identifying T-cell epitopes and eliciting T-cell responses against those epitopes.


Steps to reproduce

Data and analyses presented in this manuscript are available at: Several data files larger than 100Mb and supplemental tables are available here. To complete the repository, move the files within the "Large_files" directory into the respective git repository clone, and unpack "Root/Large_files/Working/large_files_010421.tar.gz".


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Vaccine, B Cell, T Cell, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, COVID-19