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Bioinformatic prediction of potential T cell epitopes for SARS-Cov-2.

ABSTRACT

To control and prevent the current COVID-19 pandemic, the development of novel vaccines is an emergent issue. In addition, we need to develop tools that can measure/monitor T-cell and B-cell responses to know how our immune system is responding to this deleterious virus. However, little information is currently available about the immune target epitopes of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) to induce host immune responses. Through a comprehensive bioinformatic screening of potential epitopes derived from the SARS-CoV-2 sequences for HLAs commonly present in the Japanese population, we identified 2013 and 1399 possible peptide epitopes that are likely to have the high affinity (<0.5%- and 2%-rank, respectively) to HLA class I and II molecules, respectively, that may induce CD8 and CD4 T-cell responses. These epitopes distributed across the structural (spike, envelope, membrane, and nucleocapsid proteins) and the nonstructural proteins (proteins corresponding to six open reading frames); however, we found several regions where high-affinity epitopes were significantly enriched. By comparing the sequences of these predicted T cell epitopes to the other coronaviruses, we identified 781 HLA-class I and 418 HLA-class II epitopes that have high homologies to SARS-CoV. To further select commonly-available epitopes that would be applicable to larger populations, we calculated population coverages based on the allele frequencies of HLA molecules, and found 2 HLA-class I epitopes covering 83.8% of the Japanese population. The findings in the current study provide us valuable information to design widely-available vaccine epitopes against SARS-CoV-2 and also provide the useful information for monitoring T-cell responses.