Severe COVID-19 is characterized by excessive inflammation of the lower airways. The balance of protective versus pathological immune responses in COVID-19 is incompletely understood. Mucosa-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are antimicrobial T cells that recognize bacterial metabolites, and can also function as innate-like sensors and mediators of antiviral responses. Here, we investigated the MAIT cell compartment in COVID-19 patients with moderate and severe disease, as well as in convalescence. We show profound and preferential decline in MAIT cells in the circulation of patients with active disease paired with strong activation. Furthermore, transcriptomic analyses indicated significant MAIT cell enrichment and pro-inflammatory IL-17A bias in the airways. Unsupervised analysis identified MAIT cell CD69high and CXCR3low immunotypes associated with poor clinical outcome. MAIT cell levels normalized in the convalescent phase, consistent with dynamic recruitment to the tissues and later release back into the circulation when disease is resolved. These findings indicate that MAIT cells are engaged in the immune response against SARS-CoV-2 and suggest their possible involvement in COVID-19 immunopathogenesis.
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