Research ArticleCORONAVIRUS

Distinct inflammatory profiles distinguish COVID-19 from influenza with limited contributions from cytokine storm

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Science Advances  09 Dec 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 50, eabe3024
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe3024


We pursued a study of immune responses in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and influenza patients. Compared to patients with influenza, patients with COVID-19 exhibited largely equivalent lymphocyte counts, fewer monocytes, and lower surface human leukocyte antigen (HLA)–class II expression on selected monocyte populations. Furthermore, decreased HLA-DR on intermediate monocytes predicted severe COVID-19 disease. In contrast to prevailing assumptions, very few (7 of 168) patients with COVID-19 exhibited cytokine profiles indicative of cytokine storm syndrome. After controlling for multiple factors including age and sample time point, patients with COVID-19 exhibited lower cytokine levels than patients with influenza. Up-regulation of IL-6, G-CSF, IL-1RA, and MCP1 predicted death in patients with COVID-19 but were not statistically higher than patients with influenza. Single-cell transcriptional profiling revealed profound suppression of interferon signaling among patients with COVID-19. When considered across the spectrum of peripheral immune profiles, patients with COVID-19 are less inflamed than patients with influenza.

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