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T cell responses precede antibody and may provide early control of infection. We analyzed the clonal basis of this rapid response following SARS-COV-2 infection. We applied T cell receptor (TCR) sequencing to define the trajectories of individual T cell clones immediately. In SARS-COV-2 PCR+ individuals, a wave of TCRs strongly but transiently expand, frequently peaking the same week as the first positive PCR test. These expanding TCR CDR3s were enriched for sequences functionally annotated as SARS-COV-2 specific. Epitopes recognized by the expanding TCRs were highly conserved between SARS-COV-2 strains but not with circulating human coronaviruses. Many expanding CDR3s were present at high frequency in pre-pandemic repertoires. Early response TCRs specific for lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus epitopes were also found at high frequency in the preinfection naive repertoire. High-frequency naive precursors may allow the T cell response to respond rapidly during the crucial early phases of acute viral infection.

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Biological sciences, Cell biology, Immunity, Immunology