Heterogeneity of neutrophils and inflammatory responses in patients with COVID-19 and healthy controls

Front Immunol. 2022 Nov 16:13:970287. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.970287. eCollection 2022.


Severe respiratory viral infections, including SARS-CoV-2, have resulted in high mortality rates despite corticosteroids and other immunomodulatory therapies. Despite recognition of the pathogenic role of neutrophils, in-depth analyses of this cell population have been limited, due to technical challenges of working with neutrophils. We undertook an unbiased, detailed analysis of neutrophil responses in adult patients with COVID-19 and healthy controls, to determine whether distinct neutrophil phenotypes could be identified during infections compared to the healthy state. Single-cell RNA sequencing analysis of peripheral blood neutrophils from hospitalized patients with mild or severe COVID-19 disease and healthy controls revealed distinct mature neutrophil subpopulations, with relative proportions linked to disease severity. Disruption of predicted cell-cell interactions, activated oxidative phosphorylation genes, and downregulated antiviral and host defense pathway genes were observed in neutrophils obtained during severe compared to mild infections. Our findings suggest that during severe infections, there is a loss of normal regulatory neutrophil phenotypes seen in healthy subjects, coupled with the dropout of appropriate cellular interactions. Given that neutrophils are the most abundant circulating leukocytes with highly pathogenic potential, current immunotherapies for severe infections may be optimized by determining whether they aid in restoring an appropriate balance of neutrophil subpopulations.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS – CoV – 2; immune response; neutrophil heterogeneity; single-cell sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Neutrophils
  • Patient Acuity
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Antiviral Agents