Background: The COVID-19 pandemic, which has a prominent social and economic impact worldwide, shows a largely unexplained male bias for the severity and mortality of the disease. Loss of chromosome Y (LOY) is a risk factor candidate in COVID-19 due to its prior association with many chronic age-related diseases, and its impact on immune gene transcription.
Methods: Publicly available scRNA-seq data of PBMC samples derived from male patients critically ill with COVID-19 were reanalyzed, and LOY status was added to the annotated cells. We further studied LOY in whole blood for 211 COVID-19 patients treated at intensive care units (ICU) from the first and second waves of the pandemic. Of these, 139 patients were subject to cell sorting for LOY analysis in granulocytes, low-density neutrophils (LDNs), monocytes, and PBMCs.
Results: Reanalysis of available scRNA-seq data revealed LDNs and monocytes as the cell types most affected by LOY. Subsequently, DNA analysis indicated that 46%, 32%, and 29% of critically ill patients showed LOY above 5% cut-off in LDNs, granulocytes, and monocytes, respectively. Hence, the myeloid lineage that is crucial for the development of severe COVID-19 phenotype is affected by LOY. Moreover, LOY correlated with increasing WHO score (median difference 1.59%, 95% HDI 0.46% to 2.71%, p=0.025), death during ICU treatment (median difference 1.46%, 95% HDI 0.47% to 2.43%, p=0.0036), and history of vessel disease (median difference 2.16%, 95% HDI 0.74% to 3.7%, p=0.004), among other variables. In 16 recovered patients, sampled during ICU stay and 93-143 days later, LOY decreased significantly in whole blood and PBMCs. Furthermore, the number of LDNs at the recovery stage decreased dramatically (median difference 76.4 per 10,000 cell sorting events, 95% HDI 55.5 to 104, p=6e-11).
Conclusions: We present a link between LOY and an acute, life-threatening infectious disease. Furthermore, this study highlights LOY as the most prominent clonal mutation affecting the myeloid cell lineage during emergency myelopoiesis. The correlation between LOY level and COVID-19 severity might suggest that this mutation affects the functions of monocytes and neutrophils, which could have consequences for male innate immunity.
© 2022. The Author(s).