Researchers at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology (LJI) have provided compelling evidence that exposure to common cold-causing coronaviruses effectively primes immune T cells to combat the pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Their groundbreaking study unveils the development of “cross-reactive” T cells, capable of confronting multiple viruses within the same family, in an animal model.

“We are learning for the first time how these immune cells develop and function,” said LJI researcher Annie Elong Ngono Ph.D. , co-leading the study.

The research, involving mice infected with OC43 coronavirus, demonstrates that CD4+ “helper” T cells shield against SARS-CoV-2 in the respiratory system. Mice with prior OC43 exposure showed reduced SARS-CoV-2 infection in the airways, lowering the risk of pneumonia and lung damage.

The team is now focused on developing innovative vaccines leveraging these potent T cells to protect against SARS-CoV-2 and potential pandemic coronaviruses.