COVID-19 Specific Immune Markers Revealed by Single Cell Phenotypic Profiling

Biomedicines. 2021 Nov 29;9(12):1794. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines9121794.


COVID-19 is a viral infection, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and characterized by a complex inflammatory process and clinical immunophenotypes. Nowadays, several alterations of immune response within the respiratory tracts as well as at the level of the peripheral blood have been well documented. Nonetheless, their effects on COVID-19-related cell heterogeneity and disease progression are less defined. Here, we performed a single-cell RNA sequencing of about 400 transcripts relevant to immune cell function including surface markers, in mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from the peripheral blood of 50 subjects, infected with SARS-CoV-2 at the diagnosis and 27 healthy blood donors as control. We found that patients with COVID-19 exhibited an increase in COVID-specific surface markers in different subsets of immune cell composition. Interestingly, the expression of cell receptors, such as IFNGR1 and CXCR4, was reduced in response to the viral infection and associated with the inhibition of the related signaling pathways and immune functions. These results highlight novel immunoreceptors, selectively expressed in COVID-19 patients, which affect the immune functionality and are correlated with clinical outcomes.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; flow cytometry; immune cells; single-cell RNA sequencing.