Circulating neutrophil extracellular trap (NET)-forming 'rogue' neutrophil subset, immunotype [DEspR + CD11b +], mediate multi-organ failure in COVID-19-

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Center for Molecular Medicine, MaineHealth Institute for Research

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Translational medicine communications


BACKGROUND: Cumulative research show association of neutrophils and neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) with poor outcomes in severe COVID-19. However, to date, there is no curative intent therapy able to block neutrophil/NETs-mediated progression of multi-organ dysfunction. Because of emerging neutrophil heterogeneity, the study of subsets of circulating NET-forming neutrophils [NET + Ns] as mediators of multi-organ failure progression among patients with COVID-19 is critical to identification of therapeutic targets. METHODS: We conducted a prospective observational study of circulating levels of CD11b + [NET + N] immunotyped for dual endothelin-1/signal peptide receptor (DEspR ±) expression by quantitative immunofluorescence-cytology and causal mediation analysis. In 36 consented adults hospitalized with mod-severe COVID-19, May to September 2020, we measured acute multi-organ failure via SOFA-scores and respiratory failure via SaO2/FiO2 (SF)-ratio at time points t1 (average 5.5 days from ICU/hospital admission) and t2 (the day before ICU-discharge or death), and ICU-free days at day28 (ICUFD). Circulating absolute neutrophil counts (ANC) and [NET + N] subset-specific counts were measured at t1. Spearman correlation and causal mediation analyses were conducted. RESULTS: Spearman correlation analyses showed correlations of t1-SOFA with t2-SOFA (  = 0.80) and ICUFD (  = -0.76); circulating DEspR + [NET + Ns] with t1-SOFA (  = 0.71), t2-SOFA (  = 0.62), and ICUFD (  = -0.63), and ANC with t1-SOFA (  = 0.71), and t2-SOFA (  = 0.61).Causal mediation analysis identified DEspR + [NET + Ns] as mediator of 44.1% [95% CI:16.5,110.6] of the causal path between t1-SOFA (exposure) and t2-SOFA (outcome), with 46.9% [15.8,124.6] eliminated when DEspR + [NET + Ns] were theoretically reduced to zero. Concordantly, DEspR + [NET + Ns] mediated 47.1% [22.0,72.3%] of the t1-SOFA to ICUFD causal path, with 51.1% [22.8,80.4%] eliminated if DEspR + [NET + Ns] were reduced to zero. In patients with t1-SOFA > 1, the indirect effect of a hypothetical treatment eliminating DEspR + [NET + Ns] projected a reduction of t2-SOFA by 0.98 [0.29,2.06] points and ICUFD by 3.0 [0.85,7.09] days. In contrast, there was no significant mediation of SF-ratio through DEspR + [NET + Ns], and no significant mediation of SOFA-score through ANC. CONCLUSIONS: Despite equivalent correlations, DEspR + [NET + Ns], but not ANC, mediated progression of multi-organ failure in acute COVID-19, and its hypothetical reduction is projected to improve ICUFD. These translational findings warrant further studies of DEspR + [NET + Ns] as potential patient-stratifier and actionable therapeutic target for multi-organ failure in COVID-19. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s41231-023-00143-x.

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