Endothelial cell activation, Weibel-Palade body secretion, and enhanced angiogenesis in severe COVID-19

Res Pract Thromb Haemost. 2023 Feb;7(2):100085. doi: 10.1016/j.rpth.2023.100085. Epub 2023 Feb 14.


Background: Severe COVID-19 is associated with marked endothelial cell (EC) activation that plays a key role in immunothrombosis and pulmonary microvascular occlusion. However, the biological mechanisms through which SARS-CoV-2 causes EC activation and damage remain poorly defined.

Objectives: We investigated EC activation in patients with acute COVID-19, and specifically focused on how proteins stored within Weibel-Palade bodies may impact key aspects of disease pathogenesis.

Methods: Thirty-nine patients with confirmed COVID-19 were recruited. Weibel-Palade body biomarkers (von Willebrand factor [VWF], angiopoietin-2 [Angpt-2], and osteoprotegerin) and soluble thrombomodulin (sTM) levels were determined. In addition, EC activation and angiogenesis were assessed in the presence or absence of COVID-19 plasma incubation.

Results: Markedly elevated plasma VWF antigen, Angpt-2, osteoprotegerin, and sTM levels were observed in patients with acute COVID-19. The increased levels of both sTM and Weibel-Palade body components (VWF, osteoprotegerin, and Angpt-2) correlated with COVID-19 severity. Incubation of COVID-19 plasma with ECs triggered enhanced VWF secretion and increased Angpt-2 expression, as well as significantly enhanced in vitro EC tube formation and angiogenesis.

Conclusion: We propose that acute SARS-CoV-2 infection leads to a complex and multifactorial EC activation, progressive loss of thrombomodulin, and increased Angpt-2 expression, which collectively serve to promote a local proangiogenic state.

Keywords: COVID-19; Weibel-Palade body; angiogenesis; endothelial activation; endothelial cells.