Immune Response, Inflammation, and the Clinical Spectrum of COVID-19

Front Immunol. 2020 Jun 16;11:1441. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.01441. eCollection 2020.


The current COVID-19 pandemic began in December 2019 in Wuhan (China) and rapidly extended to become a global sanitary and economic emergency. Its etiological agent is the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 presents a wide spectrum of clinical manifestations, which ranges from an asymptomatic infection to a severe pneumonia accompanied by multisystemic failure that can lead to a patient's death. The immune response to SARS-CoV-2 is known to involve all the components of the immune system that together appear responsible for viral elimination and recovery from the infection. Nonetheless, such immune responses are implicated in the disease's progression to a more severe and lethal process. This review describes the general aspects of both COVID-19 and its etiological agent SARS-CoV-2, stressing the similarities with other severe coronavirus infections, such as SARS and MERS, but more importantly, pointing toward the evidence supporting the hypothesis that the clinical spectrum of COVID-19 is a consequence of the corresponding variable spectrum of the immune responses to the virus. The critical point where progression of the disease ensues appears to center on loss of the immune regulation between protective and altered responses due to exacerbation of the inflammatory components. Finally, it appears possible to delineate certain major challenges deserving of exhaustive investigation to further understand COVID-19 immunopathogenesis, thus helping to design more effective diagnostic, therapeutic, and prophylactic strategies.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; T cells; antibodies; cytokines; immune response; inflammation; spectrum.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology
  • Antibody-Dependent Enhancement / immunology
  • Betacoronavirus / classification
  • Betacoronavirus / genetics
  • Betacoronavirus / immunology*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology*
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory / immunology
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia, Viral / immunology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / pathology*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Cytokines
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory