Host transcriptomic profiling of COVID-19 patients with mild, moderate, and severe clinical outcomes

Comput Struct Biotechnol J. 2020 Dec 17:19:153-160. doi: 10.1016/j.csbj.2020.12.016. eCollection 2021.


Characterizing key molecular and cellular pathways involved in COVID-19 is essential for disease prognosis and management. We perform shotgun transcriptome sequencing of human RNA obtained from nasopharyngeal swabs of patients with COVID-19, and identify a molecular signature associated with disease severity. Specifically, we identify globally dysregulated immune related pathways, such as cytokine-cytokine receptor signaling, complement and coagulation cascades, JAK-STAT, and TGF- β signaling pathways in all, though to a higher extent in patients with severe symptoms. The excessive release of cytokines and chemokines such as CCL2, CCL22, CXCL9 and CXCL12 and certain interferons and interleukins related genes like IFIH1, IFI44, IFIT1 and IL10 were significantly higher in patients with severe clinical presentation compared to mild and moderate presentations. Differential gene expression analysis identified a small set of regulatory genes that might act as strong predictors of patient outcome. Our data suggest that rapid transcriptome analysis of nasopharyngeal swabs can be a powerful approach to quantify host molecular response and may provide valuable insights into COVID-19 pathophysiology.

Keywords: COVID-19; Disease severity; Expression signature; Nasopharyngeal swabs; Transcriptome sequencing.