High-dimensional single-cell analysis reveals the immune characteristics of COVID-19

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2021 Jan 1;320(1):L84-L98. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00355.2020. Epub 2020 Nov 4.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), driven by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was declared a global pandemic in March 2020. Pathogenic T cells and inflammatory monocytes are regarded as the central drivers of the cytokine storm associated with the severity of COVID-19. In this study, we explored the characteristic peripheral cellular profiles of patients with COVID-19 in both acute and convalescent phases by single-cell mass cytometry (CyTOF). Using a combination of algorithm-guided data analyses, we identified peripheral immune cell subsets in COVID-19 and revealed CD4+ T-cell depletion, T-cell differentiation, plasma cell expansion, and the reduced antigen presentation capacity of innate immunity. Notably, COVID-19 induces a dysregulation in the balance of monocyte populations by the expansion of the monocyte subsets. Collectively, our results represent a high-dimensional, single-cell profile of the peripheral immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Keywords: COVID-19; CyTOF; SARS-CoV-2; acute phase; convalescent phase; peripheral blood mononuclear cell.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigen Presentation / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • COVID-19 / immunology*
  • COVID-19 / pathology
  • Cytokine Release Syndrome / immunology
  • Cytokine Release Syndrome / pathology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / cytology
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / cytology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Depletion
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / cytology
  • Monocytes / immunology*
  • Plasma Cells / cytology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology*
  • Single-Cell Analysis


  • Cytokines