mRNA vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 induce divergent antigen-specific T-cell responses in patients with lung cancer

January, 01, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Omicron variant is highly transmissible and evades pre-established immunity. Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccination against ancestral strain spike protein can induce intact T-cell immunity against the Omicron variant, but efficacy of booster vaccination in patients with late-stage lung cancer on immune-modulating agents including anti-programmed cell death protein 1(PD-1)/programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) has not yet been elucidated.


We assessed T-cell responses using a modified activation-induced marker assay, coupled with high-dimension flow cytometry analyses. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were stimulated with various viral peptides and antigen-specific T-cell responses were evaluated using flow cytometry.


Booster vaccines induced CD8+ T-cell response against the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 strain and Omicron variant in both non-cancer subjects and patients with lung cancer, but only a marginal induction was detected for CD4+ T cells. Importantly, antigen-specific T cells from patients with lung cancer showed distinct subpopulation dynamics with varying degrees of differentiation compared with non-cancer subjects, with evidence of dysfunction. Notably, female-biased T-cell responses were observed.


We conclude that patients with lung cancer on immunotherapy show a substantial qualitative deviation from non-cancer subjects in their T-cell response to mRNA vaccines, highlighting the need for heightened protective measures for patients with cancer to minimize the risk of breakthrough infection with the Omicron and other future variants.

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