Transcriptional differences between coronavirus disease 2019 and bacterial sepsis

Virol J. 2022 Nov 28;19(1):198. doi: 10.1186/s12985-022-01930-y.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, has led to major public health crises worldwide. Several studies have reported the comprehensive mRNA expression analysis of immune-related genes in patients with COVID-19, using blood samples, to understand its pathogenesis; however, the characteristics of RNA expression in COVID-19 and bacterial sepsis have not been compared. The current study aimed to address this gap.

Methods: RNA-sequencing and bioinformatics analyses were used to compare the transcriptome expression of whole blood samples from patients with COVID-19 and patients with sepsis who were admitted to the intensive care unit of Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine.

Results: The COVID-19 and sepsis cohorts showed upregulation of mitochondrial- and neutrophil-related transcripts, respectively. Compared with that in the control cohort, neutrophil-related transcripts were upregulated in both the COVID-19 and sepsis cohorts. In contrast, mitochondrial-related transcripts were upregulated in the COVID-19 cohort and downregulated in the sepsis cohort, compared to those in the control cohort. Moreover, transcript levels of the pro-apoptotic genes BAK1, CYCS, BBC3, CASP7, and CASP8 were upregulated in the COVID-19 cohort, whereas those of anti-apoptotic genes, such as BCL2L11 and BCL2L1, were upregulated in the sepsis cohort.

Conclusions: This study clarified the differential expression of transcripts related to neutrophils and mitochondria in sepsis and COVID-19 conditions. Mitochondrial-related transcripts were downregulated in sepsis than in COVID-19 conditions, and our results indicated suboptimal intrinsic apoptotic features in sepsis samples compared with that in COVID-19 samples. This study is expected to contribute to the development of specific treatments for COVID-19.

Keywords: Coronavirus disease 2019; Mitochondria; Neutrophil; Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • RNA
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sepsis* / genetics


  • RNA