Patients suffering from coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) are susceptible to deadly secondary fungal infections such as COVID-19-associated pulmonary aspergillosis and COVID-19-associated mucormycosis. Despite this clinical observation, direct experimental evidence for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2)-driven alterations of antifungal immunity is scarce. Using an ex-vivo whole blood stimulation assay, we challenged blood from twelve COVID-19 patients with Aspergillus fumigatus and Rhizopus arrhizus antigens and studied the expression of activation, maturation, and exhaustion markers, as well as cytokine secretion. Compared to healthy controls, T-helper cells from COVID-19 patients displayed increased expression levels of the exhaustion marker PD-1 and weakened A. fumigatus- and R. arrhizus-induced activation. While baseline secretion of proinflammatory cytokines was massively elevated, whole blood from COVID-19 patients elicited diminished release of T-cellular (e.g., IFN-γ, IL-2) and innate immune cell-derived (e.g., CXCL9, CXCL10) cytokines in response to A. fumigatus and R. arrhizus antigens. Additionally, samples from COVID-19 patients showed deficient granulocyte activation by mold antigens and reduced fungal killing capacity of neutrophils. These features of weakened anti-mold immune responses were largely decoupled from COVID-19 severity, the time elapsed since diagnosis of COVID-19, and recent corticosteroid uptake, suggesting that impaired anti-mold defense is a common denominator of the underlying SARS-CoV-2 infection. Taken together, these results expand our understanding of the immune predisposition to post-viral mold infections and could inform future studies of immunotherapeutic strategies to prevent and treat fungal superinfections in COVID-19 patients.
Keywords: Aspergillus; COVID-19; Rhizopus; T cells; granulocytes; immune impairment.
Copyright © 2022 Tappe, Lauruschkat, Strobel, Pantaleón García, Kurzai, Rebhan, Kraus, Pfeuffer-Jovic, Bussemer, Possler, Held, Hünniger, Kniemeyer, Schäuble, Brakhage, Panagiotou, White, Einsele, Löffler and Wurster.