Interleukin-6 drives endothelial glycocalyx damage in COVID-19 and bacterial sepsis

Angiogenesis. 2024 Apr 10. doi: 10.1007/s10456-024-09916-w. Online ahead of print.


Damage of the endothelial glycocalyx (eGC) plays a central role in the development of vascular hyperpermeability and organ damage during systemic inflammation. However, the specific signalling pathways for eGC damage remain poorly defined. Aim of this study was to combine sublingual video-microscopy, plasma proteomics and live cell imaging to uncover further pathways of eGC damage in patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) or bacterial sepsis. This secondary analysis of the prospective multicenter MICROCODE study included 22 patients with COVID-19 and 43 patients with bacterial sepsis admitted to intermediate or intensive care units and 10 healthy controls. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) was strongly associated with damaged eGC and correlated both with eGC dimensions (rs=0.36, p = 0.0015) and circulating eGC biomarkers. In vitro, IL-6 reduced eGC height and coverage, which was inhibited by blocking IL-6 signalling with the anti-IL-6 receptor antibody tocilizumab or the Janus kinase inhibitor tofacitinib. Exposure of endothelial cells to 5% serum from COVID-19 or sepsis patients resulted in a significant decrease in eGC height, which was attenuated by co-incubation with tocilizumab. In an external COVID-19 cohort of 219 patients from Massachusetts General Hospital, a previously identified proteomic eGC signature correlated with IL-6 (rs=-0.58, p < 0.0001) and predicted the combined endpoint of 28-day mortality and/or intubation (ROC-AUC: 0.86 [95% CI: 0.81-0.91], p < 0.001). The data suggest that IL-6 may significantly drive eGC damage in COVID-19 and bacterial sepsis. Our findings provide valuable insights into pathomechanisms of vascular dysfunction during systemic inflammation and highlight the need for further in vivo studies.

Keywords: COVID-19; Endothelial glycocalyx; Heparanase; Sepsis; Sublingual microscopy.