Background: Growth arrest-specific factor 6 (GAS6) and the Tyro3, AXL, and MERTK (TAM) receptors counterbalance pro-inflammatory responses. AXL is a candidate receptor for SARS-CoV-2, particularly in the respiratory system, and the GAS6/AXL axis is targeted in current clinical trials against COVID-19. However, GAS6 and TAMs have not been evaluated in COVID-19 patients at emergency admission.
Methods: Plasma GAS6, AXL, and MERTK were analyzed in 132 patients consecutively admitted to the emergency ward during the first peak of COVID-19.
Results: GAS6 levels were higher in the SARS-CoV-2-positive patients, increasing progressively with the severity of the disease. Patients with initial GAS6 at the highest quartile had the worst outcome, with a 3-month survival of 65%, compared to a 90% survival for the rest. Soluble AXL exhibited higher plasma concentration in deceased patients, without significant differences in MERTK among SARS-CoV-2-positive groups. GAS6 mRNA was mainly expressed in alveolar cells and AXL in airway macrophages. Remarkably, THP-1 human macrophage differentiation neatly induces AXL, and its inhibition (bemcentinib) reduced cytokine production in human macrophages after LPS challenge.
Conclusions: Plasma GAS6 and AXL levels reflect COVID-19 severity and could be early markers of disease prognosis, supporting a relevant role of the GAS6/AXL system in the immune response in COVID-19.
Keywords: AXL; COVID-19; GAS6; MERTK; immune response; immunothrombosis; viral infection; vitamin K.