Understanding protection from SARS-CoV-2 using metabolomics

Sci Rep. 2021 Jul 5;11(1):13796. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-93260-2.


The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging in most countries. Although the recent mass vaccination campaign has opened a new chapter in the battle against SARS-CoV-2, the world is still far from herd immunity. There is an urgent need to identify healthy people at high risk of contracting COVID-19, as well as supplements and nutraceuticals that can reduce the risk of infection or mitigate symptoms. In the present study, a metabolic phenotype that could protect individuals from SARS-CoV-2 infection or predispose them to developing COVID-19 was investigated. Untargeted metabolomics was performed on serum samples collected from 51 healthcare workers who were in good health at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, and who were later exposed to the same risk of developing COVID-19. Half of them developed COVID-19 within three weeks of the blood collection. Our results demonstrate the presence of a specific signature associated with protection from SARS-CoV-2. Circulating monolaurin, which has well-known antiviral and antibacterial properties, was higher in protected subjects, suggesting a potential defensive role against SARS-CoV-2 infection; thus, dietary supplements could boost the immune system against this infection. In addition, our data demonstrate that people with higher levels of cholesterol are at higher risk of developing COVID-19. The present study demonstrates that metabolomics can be of great help for developing personalized medicine and for supporting public healthcare strategies. Studies with larger cohorts of subjects are necessary to confirm our findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Herd / physiology
  • Italy
  • Metabolomics*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity*


  • Antiviral Agents