Immune cell profiling of COVID-19 patients in the recovery stage by single-cell sequencing

Cell Discov. 2020 May 4;6:31. doi: 10.1038/s41421-020-0168-9. eCollection 2020.


COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV-2, has recently affected over 1,200,000 people and killed more than 60,000. The key immune cell subsets change and their states during the course of COVID-19 remain unclear. We sought to comprehensively characterize the transcriptional changes in peripheral blood mononuclear cells during the recovery stage of COVID-19 by single-cell RNA sequencing technique. It was found that T cells decreased remarkably, whereas monocytes increased in patients in the early recovery stage (ERS) of COVID-19. There was an increased ratio of classical CD14++ monocytes with high inflammatory gene expression as well as a greater abundance of CD14++IL1β+ monocytes in the ERS. CD4+ T cells and CD8+ T cells decreased significantly and expressed high levels of inflammatory genes in the ERS. Among the B cells, the plasma cells increased remarkably, whereas the naïve B cells decreased. Several novel B cell-receptor (BCR) changes were identified, such as IGHV3-23 and IGHV3-7, and isotypes (IGHV3-15, IGHV3-30, and IGKV3-11) previously used for virus vaccine development were confirmed. The strongest pairing frequencies, IGHV3-23-IGHJ4, indicated a monoclonal state associated with SARS-CoV-2 specificity, which had not been reported yet. Furthermore, integrated analysis predicted that IL-1β and M-CSF may be novel candidate target genes for inflammatory storm and that TNFSF13, IL-18, IL-2, and IL-4 may be beneficial for the recovery of COVID-19 patients. Our study provides the first evidence of an inflammatory immune signature in the ERS, suggesting COVID-19 patients are still vulnerable after hospital discharge. Identification of novel BCR signaling may lead to the development of vaccines and antibodies for the treatment of COVID-19.

Keywords: Immunology; Mechanisms of disease.