RNA sequence analysis of nasopharyngeal swabs from asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients with COVID-19

Int J Infect Dis. 2022 Jun 26;122:449-460. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2022.06.035. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: The characterization of asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic patients with COVID-19 by observing changes in gene expression profile and possible bacterial coinfection is relevant to be investigated. We aimed to identify transcriptomic and coinfection profiles in both groups of patients.

Methods: A ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequence analysis on nasopharyngeal swabs were performed using a shotgun sequencing pipeline. Differential gene analysis, viral genome assembly, and metagenomics analysis were further performed using the retrieved data.

Results: Both groups of patients underwent a cilia modification and mRNA splicing. Modulations in macroautophagy, epigenetics, and cell cycle processes were observed specifically in the asymptomatic group. Modulation in the RNA transport was found specifically in the mildly symptomatic group. The mildly symptomatic group showed modulation in the RNA transport and upregulation of autophagy regulator genes and genes in the complement system. No link between viral variants and disease severity was found. Microbiome analysis revealed the elevation of Streptococcus pneumoniae and Veillonella parvula proportion in symptomatic patients.

Conclusion: A reduction in the autophagy influx and modification in the epigenetic profile might be involved in halting the disease progression. A global dysregulation of RNA processing and translation might cause more severe outcomes in symptomatic individuals. Coinfection by opportunistic microflora should be taken into account when assessing the possible outcome of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Keywords: COVID-19; Differential gene expression; Gene ontology; SARS-CoV-2; Transcriptomics.