SARS-CoV-2 is a single-stranded RNA virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Given its acute and often self-limiting course, components of the innate immune system are likely central in controlling virus replication thereby determining clinical outcome. Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes with notable activity against a broad range of viruses, including RNA viruses1,2. NK cell function may be altered during COVID-19 despite increased representation of NK cells with an activated and ‘adaptive’ phenotype3,4. Here we show that viral load decline in COVID-19 correlates with NK cell status and that NK cells can control SARS-CoV-2 replication by recognizing infected target cells. In severe COVID-19, NK cells show remarkable defects in virus control, cytokine production and cell-mediated cytotoxicity despite high expression of cytotoxic effector molecules. Single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) of NK cells along the time course of the entire COVID-19 disease spectrum reveals a unique gene expression signature. Transcriptional networks of interferon-driven NK cell activation are superimposed by a dominant TGFβ response signature with reduced expression of genes related to cell-cell adhesion, granule exocytosis and cell-mediated cytotoxicity. In severe COVID-19, serum levels of TGFβ peak during the first 2 weeks of infection, and serum obtained from these patients profoundly inhibits NK cell function in a TGFβ-dependent manner. Our data reveal that untimely production of TGFβ is a hallmark of severe COVID-19 and may inhibit NK cell function and early virus control.

Untimely TGFβ responses in COVID-19 limit antiviral functions of NK cells

Marcenaro E.;
2021

Abstract

SARS-CoV-2 is a single-stranded RNA virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Given its acute and often self-limiting course, components of the innate immune system are likely central in controlling virus replication thereby determining clinical outcome. Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes with notable activity against a broad range of viruses, including RNA viruses1,2. NK cell function may be altered during COVID-19 despite increased representation of NK cells with an activated and ‘adaptive’ phenotype3,4. Here we show that viral load decline in COVID-19 correlates with NK cell status and that NK cells can control SARS-CoV-2 replication by recognizing infected target cells. In severe COVID-19, NK cells show remarkable defects in virus control, cytokine production and cell-mediated cytotoxicity despite high expression of cytotoxic effector molecules. Single-cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) of NK cells along the time course of the entire COVID-19 disease spectrum reveals a unique gene expression signature. Transcriptional networks of interferon-driven NK cell activation are superimposed by a dominant TGFβ response signature with reduced expression of genes related to cell-cell adhesion, granule exocytosis and cell-mediated cytotoxicity. In severe COVID-19, serum levels of TGFβ peak during the first 2 weeks of infection, and serum obtained from these patients profoundly inhibits NK cell function in a TGFβ-dependent manner. Our data reveal that untimely production of TGFβ is a hallmark of severe COVID-19 and may inhibit NK cell function and early virus control.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11567/1065610
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