BCG activation of trained immunity is associated with induction of cross reactive COVID-19 antibodies in a BCG vaccinated population

Document Type



Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Paediatrics and Child Health; Pathology and Laboratory Medicine


Background: Pakistan is endemic to a diverse set of parasitic, mycobacterial and viral diseases. The recognition of BCG Trained Immunity (TI) led us to postulate that the continued presence of BCG-TI may play a protective role, previously reported for both infectious and noninfectious conditions. Most of the previous studies have addressed the issue of BCG-TI in the paediatric populations. This study addressed the key issue of maintenance of BCG-TI in a wider age range (adolescent and adults) to identify the strength and quality of the immune responses.
Objective: To assess the BCG-induced recall responses in healthy individuals by cytokines secreted from the TI network and its potential role in providing cross-protection against COVID-19 and other viral infections.
Study design: In this cross-sectional study, healthy young adults and adolescents (n = 20) were recruited from 16-40 years of age, with no prior history of TB treatment, autoimmune, or chronic inflammatory condition.
Methods: BCG-induced cytokine responses were assessed using prototypic markers for cells of the TI network [macrophages [M1 (TNFα, IFNγ), M2 (IL10)], NK (IL2), Gamma delta (γδ) T (IL17, IL4)] and SARS CoV2 IgG antibodies against RBD using short-term (12 hrs.) cultures assay.
Results: Significant differences were observed in the magnitude of recall responses to BCG with macrophage cytokines showing the highest mean levels of TNFα (9148 pg/ml) followed by IL10 (488 pg/ml) and IFNγ (355 pg/ml). The ratio of unstimulated vs.BCG-stimulated cytokines was 132 fold higher for TNFα, 40 fold fo r IL10, and 27 fold for IFNγ. Furthermore, SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were also detected in unstimulated plasma which showed cross reactivity with BCG.
Conclusion: The presence of cross reactive antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 and the relative ratio of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines secreted by activated TI cellular network may play a pivotal role in protection in the early stages of infection as observed during the COVID-19 pandemic in the younger age groups resulting in lower morbidity and mortality.


Pagination is not provided by author/publisher.

Publication (Name of Journal)