Homologies between SARS-CoV-2 and allergen proteins may direct T cell-mediated heterologous immune responses
Sci Rep. 2021 Feb 26;11(1):4792. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-84320-8.
The outbreak of the new severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a public health emergency. Asthma does not represent a risk factor for COVID-19 in several published cohorts. We hypothesized that the SARS-CoV-2 proteome contains T cell epitopes, which are potentially cross-reactive to allergen epitopes. We aimed at identifying homologous peptide sequences by means of two distinct complementary bioinformatics approaches. Pipeline 1 included prediction of MHC Class I and Class II epitopes contained in the SARS-CoV-2 proteome and allergens along with alignment and elaborate ranking approaches. Pipeline 2 involved alignment of SARS-CoV-2 overlapping peptides with known allergen-derived T cell epitopes. Our results indicate a large number of MHC Class I epitope pairs including known as well as de novo predicted allergen T cell epitopes with high probability for cross-reactivity. Allergen sources, such as Aspergillus fumigatus, Phleum pratense and Dermatophagoides species are of particular interest due to their association with multiple cross-reactive candidate peptides, independently of the applied bioinformatic approach. In contrast, peptides derived from food allergens, as well as MHC class II epitopes did not achieve high in silico ranking and were therefore not further investigated. Our findings warrant further experimental confirmation along with examination of the functional importance of such cross-reactive responses.