Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 34716309
Link to DOI – 10.1038/s41419-021-04299-y
Cell Death Dis 2021 10; 12(11): 1019
Clinical outcomes of COVID-19 patients are worsened by the presence of co-morbidities, especially cancer leading to elevated mortality rates. SARS-CoV-2 infection is known to alter immune system homeostasis. Whether cancer patients developing COVID-19 present alterations of immune functions which might contribute to worse outcomes have so far been poorly investigated. We conducted a multi-omic analysis of immunological parameters in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of COVID-19 patients with and without cancer. Healthy donors and SARS-CoV-2-negative cancer patients were also included as controls. At the infection peak, cytokine multiplex analysis of blood samples, cytometry by time of flight (CyTOF) cell population analyses, and Nanostring gene expression using Pancancer array on PBMCs were performed. We found that eight pro-inflammatory factors (IL-6, IL-8, IL-13, IL-1ra, MIP-1a, IP-10) out of 27 analyzed serum cytokines were modulated in COVID-19 patients irrespective of cancer status. Diverse subpopulations of T lymphocytes such as CD8+T, CD4+T central memory, Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT), natural killer (NK), and γδ T cells were reduced, while B plasmablasts were expanded in COVID-19 cancer patients. Our findings illustrate a repertoire of aberrant alterations of gene expression in circulating immune cells of COVID-19 cancer patients. A 19-gene expression signature of PBMCs is able to discriminate COVID-19 patients with and without solid cancers. Gene set enrichment analysis highlights an increased gene expression linked to Interferon α, γ, α/β response and signaling which paired with aberrant cell cycle regulation in cancer patients. Ten out of the 19 genes, validated in a real-world consecutive cohort, were specific of COVID-19 cancer patients independently from different cancer types and stages of the diseases, and useful to stratify patients in a COVID-19 disease severity-manner. We also unveil a transcriptional network involving gene regulators of both inflammation response and proliferation in PBMCs of COVID-19 cancer patients.