Integrated miRNA/cytokine/chemokine profiling reveals immunopathological step changes associated with COVID-19 severity



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Circulating microRNAs (miRNAs) are exceptional mechanism-based correlates of disease, yet their potential remains largely untapped in COVID-19. Here, we determined circulating miRNA and cytokine and chemokine (CC) profiles in 171 blood plasma samples from 58 hospitalised COVID-19 patients. Thirty-two miRNAs were differentially expressed in severe cases when compared to moderate and mild cases. These miRNAs and their predicted targets reflected key COVID-19 features including cell death and hypoxia. Compared to mild cases, moderate and severe cases were characterised by a global decrease in circulating miRNA levels. Partial least squares regression using miRNA and CC measurements allowed for discrimination of severe cases with greater accuracy (87%) than using miRNA or CC levels alone. Correlation analysis revealed severity group-specific associations between CC and miRNA levels. Importantly, the miRNAs that correlated with IL6 and CXCL10, two cardinal COVID-19-associated cytokines, were distinct between severity groups, providing a novel qualitative way to stratify patients with similar levels of proinflammatory cytokines but different disease severity. Integration of miRNA and CC levels with clinical parameters revealed severity-specific signatures associated with clinical hallmarks of COVID-19. Our study highlights the existence of severity-specific circulating CC/miRNA networks, providing insight into COVID-19 pathogenesis and a novel approach for monitoring COVID-19 progression.

Author list:

Julie C. WIlson, David Kealy, Sally R. James, Katherine Newling, Christopher Jagger, Kara Filbey, Elizabeth Mann, Joanne Konkel, Madhvi Menon, Sean B. Knight, Angela Simspon, CIRCO collaborative group, John R. Grainger, Tracy Hussell, Paul M Kaye, Nathalie Signoret, Dimitris Lagos