Erythrocytes Reveal Complement Activation in Patients with COVID-19

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2020 May 22:2020.05.20.20104398. doi: 10.1101/2020.05.20.20104398.


COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, can progress to multi-organ failure characterized by respiratory insufficiency, arrhythmias, thromboembolic complications and shock. The mortality of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 is unacceptably high and new strategies are urgently needed to rapidly identify and treat patients at risk for organ failure. Clinical epidemiologic studies demonstrate that vulnerability to organ failure is greatest after viral clearance from the upper airway, which suggests that dysregulation of the host immune response is a critical mediator of clinical deterioration and death. Autopsy and pre-clinical evidence implicate aberrant complement activation in endothelial injury and organ failure. A potential therapeutic strategy warranting investigation is to inhibit complement, with case reports of successful treatment of COVID-19 with inhibitors of complement. However, this approach requires careful balance between the host protective and potential injurious effects of complement activation, and biomarkers to identify the optimal timing and candidates for therapy are lacking. Here we report the presence of complement activation products on circulating erythrocytes from hospitalized COVID-19 patients using flow cytometry. These findings suggest that novel erythrocyte-based diagnostics provide a method to identify patients with dysregulated complement activation.

Publication types

  • Preprint