BACKGROUND: Patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and healthy controls received primary SARS-CoV-2-mRNA vaccination and a booster after six months. Anti-TNF-α-treated patients showed significantly lower antibody (Ab) levels and faster waning than α4β7-integrin-antagonist recipients and controls. This prospective cohort study aimed to elucidate the underlying mechanisms on the basis of circulating T-follicular helper cells (cTfh) and B memory cells.
METHODS: We measured SARS-CoV-2- Wuhan and Omicron specific Abs, B- and T-cell subsets at baseline and kinetics of Spike (S)-specific B memory cells along with distributions of activated cTfh subsets before and after primary and booster vaccination.
FINDINGS: Lower and faster waning of Ab levels in anti-TNF-α treated IBD patients was associated with low numbers of total and naïve B cells vs. expanded plasmablasts prior to vaccination. Along with their low Ab levels against Wuhan and Omicron VOCs, reduced S-specific B memory cells were identified after the 2nd dose which declined to non-detectable after 6 months. In contrast, IBD patients with α4β7-integrin-antagonists and controls mounted and retained high Ab levels after the 2nd dose, which was associated with a pronounced increase in S-specific B memory cells that were maintained or expanded up to 6 months. Booster vaccination led to a strong increase of Abs with neutralizing capacity and S-specific B memory cells in these groups, which was not the case in anti-TNF-α treated IBD patients. Of note, Ab levels and S-specific B memory cells in particular post-booster correlated with the activation of cTfh1 cells after primary vaccination.
INTERPRETATIONS: The reduced magnitude, persistence and neutralization capacity of SARS-CoV-2 specific Abs after vaccination in anti-TNF-α-treated IBD patients were associated with impaired formation and maintenance of S-specific B memory cells, likely due to absent cTfh1 activation leading to extra-follicular immune responses and diminished B memory cell diversification. These observations have implications for patient-tailored vaccination schedules/vaccines in anti-TNF-α-treated patients, irrespective of their underlying disease.
FUNDING: The study was funded by third party funding of the Institute of Specific Prophylaxis and Tropical Medicine at the Medical University Vienna. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, data analyses, interpretation, or writing of report.