Platelets Can Associate with SARS-Cov-2 RNA and Are Hyperactivated in COVID-19

Circ Res. 2020 Sep 17;127(11):1404-1418. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.120.317703. Online ahead of print.


Rationale: In addition to the overwhelming lung inflammation that prevails in COVID-19, hypercoagulation and thrombosis contribute to the lethality of subjects infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Platelets are chiefly implicated in thrombosis. Moreover, they can interact with viruses and are an important source of inflammatory mediators. While a lower platelet count is associated with severity and mortality, little is known about platelet function during COVID-19. Objective: To evaluate the contribution of platelets to inflammation and thrombosis in COVID-19 patients. Methods and Results: Blood was collected from 115 consecutive COVID-19 patients presenting non-severe (n=71) and severe (n=44) respiratory symptoms. We document the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA associated with platelets of COVID-19 patients. Exhaustive assessment of cytokines in plasma and in platelets revealed the modulation of platelet-associated cytokine levels in both non-severe and severe COVID-19 patients, pointing to a direct contribution of platelets to the plasmatic cytokine load. Moreover, we demonstrate that platelets release their alpha- and dense-granule contents in both non-severe and severe forms of COVID-19. In comparison to concentrations measured in healthy volunteers, phosphatidylserine-exposing platelet extracellular vesicles were increased in non-severe, but not in severe cases of COVID-19. Levels of D-dimers, a marker of thrombosis, failed to correlate with any measured indicators of platelet activation. Functionally, platelets were hyperactivated in COVID-19 subjects presenting non-severe and severe symptoms, with aggregation occurring at suboptimal thrombin concentrations. Furthermore, platelets adhered more efficiently onto collagen-coated surfaces under flow conditions. Conclusions: Taken together, the data suggest that platelets are at the frontline of COVID-19 pathogenesis, as they release various sets of molecules through the different stages of the disease. Platelets may thus have the potential to contribute to the overwhelming thrombo-inflammation in COVID-19, and the inhibition of pathways related to platelet activation may improve the outcomes during COVID-19.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2.