The SARS-CoV-2 virus infects cells of the airway and lungs in humans causing the disease COVID-19. This disease is characterized by cough, shortness of breath, and in severe cases causes pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) which can be fatal. Bronchial alveolar lavage fluid (BALF) and plasma from mild and severe cases of COVID-19 have been profiled using protein measurements and bulk and single cell RNA sequencing. Onset of pneumonia and ARDS can be rapid in COVID-19, suggesting a potential neuronal involvement in pathology and mortality. We hypothesized that SARS-CoV-2 infection drives changes in immune cell-derived factors that then interact with receptors expressed by the sensory neuronal innervation of the lung to further promote important aspects of disease severity, including ARDS. We sought to quantify how immune cells might interact with sensory innervation of the lung in COVID-19 using published data from patients, existing RNA sequencing datasets from human dorsal root ganglion neurons and other sources, and a genome-wide ligand-receptor pair database curated for pharmacological interactions relevant for neuro-immune interactions. Our findings reveal a landscape of ligand-receptor interactions in the lung caused by SARS-CoV-2 viral infection and point to potential interventions to reduce the burden of neurogenic inflammation in COVID-19 pulmonary disease. In particular, our work highlights opportunities for clinical trials with existing or under development rheumatoid arthritis and other (e.g. CCL2, CCR5 or EGFR inhibitors) drugs to treat high risk or severe COVID-19 cases.
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