Endothelial cell (EC) activation plays a key role in the pathogenesis of pulmonary microvascular occlusion, which is a hallmark of severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Consistent with EC activation, increased plasma von Willebrand factor antigen (VWF:Ag) levels have been reported in COVID-19. Importantly however, studies in other microangiopathies have shown that plasma VWF propeptide (VWFpp) is a more sensitive and specific measure of acute EC activation. In the present study, we further investigated the nature of EC activation in severe COVID-19. Markedly increased plasma VWF:Ag [median (interquatile range, IQR) 608·8 (531-830)iu/dl] and pro-coagulant factor VIII (FVIII) levels [median (IQR) 261·9 (170-315) iu/dl] were seen in patients with severe severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. Sequential testing showed that these elevated VWF-FVIII complex levels remained high for up to 3 weeks. Similarly, plasma VWFpp levels were also markedly elevated [median (IQR) 324·6 (267-524) iu/dl]. Interestingly however, the VWFpp/VWF:Ag ratio was reduced, demonstrating that decreased VWF clearance contributes to the elevated plasma VWF:Ag levels in severe COVID-19. Importantly, plasma VWFpp levels also correlated with clinical severity indices including the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score, Sepsis-Induced Coagulopathy (SIC) score and the ratio of arterial oxygen partial pressure to fractional inspired oxygen (P/F ratio). Collectively, these findings support the hypothesis that sustained fulminant EC activation is occurring in severe COVID-19, and further suggest that VWFpp may have a role as a biomarker in this setting.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; VWF propeptide; coagulopathy; endothelium.
© 2020 British Society for Haematology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.