Transcriptional response modules characterize IL-1β and IL-6 activity in COVID-19

iScience. 2021 Jan 22;24(1):101896. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2020.101896. Epub 2020 Dec 7.


Dysregulated IL-1β and IL-6 responses have been implicated in the pathogenesis of severe Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Innovative approaches for evaluating the biological activity of these cytokines in vivo are urgently needed to complement clinical trials of therapeutic targeting of IL-1β and IL-6 in COVID-19. We show that the expression of IL-1β or IL-6 inducible transcriptional signatures (modules) reflects the bioactivity of these cytokines in immunopathology modelled by juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and rheumatoid arthritis. In COVID-19, elevated expression of IL-1β and IL-6 response modules, but not the cytokine transcripts themselves, is a feature of infection in the nasopharynx and blood but is not associated with severity of COVID-19 disease, length of stay, or mortality. We propose that IL-1β and IL-6 transcriptional response modules provide a dynamic readout of functional cytokine activity in vivo, aiding quantification of the biological effects of immunomodulatory therapies in COVID-19.

Keywords: Immunology; Transcriptomics; Virology.