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This research has not been peer-reviewed, and has been posted on pre-print repository medRxiv. This is a preliminary report that should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behaviour, or be reported in news media as established information.
Neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) are web-like DNA and protein lattices which are expelled by neutrophils to trap and kill pathogens, but which cause significant damage to the host tissue. NETs have emerged as critical mediators of lung damage, inflammation and thrombosis in COVID-19 and other diseases, but there are no therapeutics to prevent or reduce NETs that are available to patients. Here, we show that neutrophils isolated from hospitalised patients with COVID-19 produce significantly more NETs in response to LPS compared to cells from healthy control subjects. A subset of patients were captured at follow-up clinics (3-4 month post-infection) and while LPS-induced NET formation is significantly lower at this time point, it remains elevated compared to healthy controls. LPS- and PMA-induced NETs were significantly inhibited by the protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitor ruboxistaurin. Ruboxistaurin-mediated inhibition of NETs in healthy neutrophils reduces NET-induced epithelial cell death. Our findings suggest ruboxistaurin could reduce proinflammatory and tissue-damaging consequences of neutrophils during disease, and since it has completed phase III trials for other indications without safety concerns, it is a promising and novel therapeutic strategy for COVID-19.