COVID-19 is characterized by excessive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and acute lung damage associated with patient mortality. While multiple inflammatory cytokines are produced by innate immune cells during SARS-CoV-2 infection, we found that only the combination of TNF-α and IFN-γ induced inflammatory cell death characterized by inflammatory cell death, PANoptosis. Mechanistically, TNF-α and IFN-γ co-treatment activated the JAK/STAT1/IRF1 axis, inducing nitric oxide production and driving caspase-8/FADD-mediated PANoptosis. TNF-α and IFN-γ caused a lethal cytokine shock in mice that mirrors the tissue damage and inflammation of COVID-19, and inhibiting PANoptosis protected mice from this pathology and death. Furthermore, treating with neutralizing antibodies against TNF-α and IFN-γ protected mice from mortality during SARS-CoV-2 infection, sepsis, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, and cytokine shock. Collectively, our findings suggest that blocking the cytokine-mediated inflammatory cell death signaling pathway identified here may benefit patients with COVID-19 or other infectious and autoinflammatory diseases by limiting tissue damage/inflammation.
Keywords: COVID-19; IFN-γ; PANoptosis; SARS-CoV-2; TNF-α; apoptosis; cytokine storm; inflammation; necroptosis; pyroptosis.
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