Single-cell profiling of the antigen-specific response to BNT162b2 SARS-CoV-2 RNA vaccine.


RNA-based vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 have proven critical to limiting COVID-19 disease severity and spread. Cellular mechanisms driving antigen-specific responses to these vaccines, however, remain uncertain. Here we identify and characterize antigen-specific cells and antibody responses to the RNA vaccine BNT162b2 using multiple single-cell technologies for in depth analysis of longitudinal samples from a cohort of healthy participants. Mass cytometry and unbiased machine learning pinpoint an expanding, population of antigen-specific memory CD4 and CD8 T cells with characteristics of follicular or peripheral helper cells. B cell receptor sequencing suggest progression from IgM, with apparent cross-reactivity to endemic coronaviruses, to SARS-CoV-2-specific IgA and IgG memory B cells and plasmablasts. Responding lymphocyte populations correlate with eventual SARS-CoV-2 IgG, and a participant lacking these cell populations failed to sustain SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies and experienced breakthrough infection. These integrated proteomic and genomic platforms identify an antigen-specific cellular basis of RNA vaccine-based immunity.