Background: COVID-19 manifests with a wide spectrum of clinical phenotypes, ranging from asymptomatic and mild to severe and critical. Severe and critical COVID-19 patients are characterized by marked changes in the myeloid compartment, especially monocytes. However, little is known about the epigenetic alterations that occur in these cells during hyperinflammatory responses in severe COVID-19 patients.
Methods: In this study, we obtained the DNA methylome and transcriptome of peripheral blood monocytes from severe COVID-19 patients. DNA samples extracted from CD14 + CD15- monocytes of 48 severe COVID-19 patients and 11 healthy controls were hybridized on MethylationEPIC BeadChip arrays. In parallel, single-cell transcriptomics of 10 severe COVID-19 patients were generated. CellPhoneDB was used to infer changes in the crosstalk between monocytes and other immune cell types.
Results: We observed DNA methylation changes in CpG sites associated with interferon-related genes and genes associated with antigen presentation, concordant with gene expression changes. These changes significantly overlapped with those occurring in bacterial sepsis, although specific DNA methylation alterations in genes specific to viral infection were also identified. We also found these alterations to comprise some of the DNA methylation changes occurring during myeloid differentiation and under the influence of inflammatory cytokines. A progression of DNA methylation alterations in relation to the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score was found to be related to interferon-related genes and T-helper 1 cell cytokine production. CellPhoneDB analysis of the single-cell transcriptomes of other immune cell types suggested the existence of altered crosstalk between monocytes and other cell types like NK cells and regulatory T cells.
Conclusion: Our findings show the occurrence of an epigenetic and transcriptional reprogramming of peripheral blood monocytes, which could be associated with the release of aberrant immature monocytes, increased systemic levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and changes in immune cell crosstalk in these patients.
Keywords: COVID-19; DNA methylation; Epigenomics; Immune cell crosstalk; Monocytes; Single-cell transcriptomics.
© 2022. The Author(s).