It is unclear why some SARS-CoV-2 patients readily resolve infection while others develop severe disease. By interrogating metabolic programs of immune cells in severe and recovered coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients compared with other viral infections, we identify a unique population of T cells. These T cells express increased Voltage-Dependent Anion Channel 1 (VDAC1), accompanied by gene programs and functional characteristics linked to mitochondrial dysfunction and apoptosis. The percentage of these cells increases in elderly patients and correlates with lymphopenia. Importantly, T cell apoptosis is inhibited in vitro by targeting the oligomerization of VDAC1 or blocking caspase activity. We also observe an expansion of myeloid-derived suppressor cells with unique metabolic phenotypes specific to COVID-19, and their presence distinguishes severe from mild disease. Overall, the identification of these metabolic phenotypes provides insight into the dysfunctional immune response in acutely ill COVID-19 patients and provides a means to predict and track disease severity and/or design metabolic therapeutic regimens.
Keywords: COVID-19; MDSCs; SARS-CoV-2; T cells; apoptosis; immunology; immunometabolism; metabolism; mitochondria.
Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.