Clinical and molecular characteristics of COVID-19 patients with persistent SARS-CoV-2 infection

Nat Commun. 2021 Jun 9;12(1):3501. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-23621-y.

Abstract

The characteristics of COVID-19 patients with persistent SARS-CoV-2 infection are not yet well described. Here, we compare the clinical and molecular features of patients with long duration of viral shedding (LDs) with those from patients with short duration patients (SDs), and healthy donors (HDs). We find that several cytokines and chemokines, such as interleukin (IL)-2, tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and lymphotoxin α (LT-α) are present at lower levels in LDs than SDs. Single-cell RNA sequencing shows that natural killer (NK) cells and CD14+ monocytes are reduced, while regulatory T cells are increased in LDs; moreover, T and NK cells in LDs are less activated than in SDs. Importantly, most cells in LDs show reduced expression of ribosomal protein (RP) genes and related pathways, with this inversed correlation between RP levels and infection duration further validated in 103 independent patients. Our results thus indicate that immunosuppression and low RP expression may be related to the persistence of the viral infection in COVID-19 patients.