In patients infected by SARS-CoV-2 who experience an exaggerated inflammation leading to pneumonia, monocytes likely play a major role but have received poor attention. Thus, we analyzed peripheral blood monocytes from patients with COVID-19 pneumonia and found that these cells show signs of altered bioenergetics and mitochondrial dysfunction, had a reduced basal and maximal respiration, reduced spare respiratory capacity, and decreased proton leak. Basal extracellular acidification rate was also diminished, suggesting reduced capability to perform aerobic glycolysis. Although COVID-19 monocytes had a reduced ability to perform oxidative burst, they were still capable of producing TNF and IFN-γ in vitro. A significantly high amount of monocytes had depolarized mitochondria and abnormal mitochondrial ultrastructure. A redistribution of monocyte subsets, with a significant expansion of intermediate/pro-inflammatory cells, and high amounts of immature monocytes were found, along with a concomitant compression of classical monocytes, and an increased expression of inhibitory checkpoints like PD-1/PD-L1. High plasma levels of several inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, including GM-CSF, IL-18, CCL2, CXCL10, and osteopontin, finally confirm the importance of monocytes in COVID-19 immunopathogenesis.
Keywords: COVID-19; OXPHOS; inhibitory checkpoints; mitochondria; monocytes.
© 2020 The Authors. Published under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license.