Alterations in immunophenotype and metabolic profile of mononuclear cells during follow up in children with multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C)

Front Immunol. 2023 Apr 20:14:1157702. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2023.1157702. eCollection 2023.


Introduction: Although children seem to be less susceptible to COVID-19, some of them develop a rare but serious hyperinflammatory condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). While several studies describe the clinical conditions of acute MIS-C, the status of convalescent patients in the months after acute MIS-C is still unclear, especially the question of persistence of changes in the specific subpopulations of immune cells in the convalescent phase of the disease.

Methods: We therefore analyzed peripheral blood of 14 children with MIS-C at the onset of the disease (acute phase) and 2 to 6 months after disease onset (post-acute convalescent phase) for lymphocyte subsets and antigen-presenting cell (APC) phenotype. The results were compared with six healthy age-matched controls.

Results: All major lymphocyte populations (B cells, CD4 + and CD8+ T cells, and NK cells) were decreased in the acute phase and normalized in the convalescent phase. T cell activation was increased in the acute phase, followed by an increased proportion of γ/δ-double-negative T cells (γ/δ DN Ts) in the convalescent phase. B cell differentiation was impaired in the acute phase with a decreased proportion of CD21 expressing, activated/memory, and class-switched memory B cells, which normalized in the convalescent phase. The proportion of plasmacytoid dendritic cells, conventional type 2 dendritic cells, and classical monocytes were decreased, while the proportion of conventional type 1 dendritic cells was increased in the acute phase. Importantly the population of plasmacytoid dendritic cells remained decreased in the convalescent phase, while other APC populations normalized. Immunometabolic analysis of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in the convalescent MIS-C showed comparable mitochondrial respiration and glycolysis rates to healthy controls.

Conclusions: While both immunophenotyping and immunometabolic analyzes showed that immune cells in the convalescent MIS-C phase normalized in many parameters, we found lower percentage of plasmablasts, lower expression of T cell co-receptors (CD3, CD4, and CD8), an increased percentage of γ/δ DN Ts and increased metabolic activity of CD3/CD28-stimulated T cells. Overall, the results suggest that inflammation persists for months after the onset of MIS-C, with significant alterations in some immune system parameters, which may also impair immune defense against viral infections.

Keywords: B lymphocytes; MIS-C; T lymphocytes exhaustion; biomarkers; dendritic cells; lymphocyte activation; metabolism; monocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes*
  • COVID-19* / metabolism
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear
  • Metabolome

Supplementary concepts

  • pediatric multisystem inflammatory disease, COVID-19 related

Grants and funding

This work was partially supported by the Slovenian Research Agency [grant number P3-0083, P1-0055, J3-3061, J3-3077] and University Medical Centre Ljubljana [grant numbers 20210069 and 20220090].