Altered neutrophil phenotype and function in non-ICU hospitalised COVID-19 patients correlated with disease severity

Kylie Belchamber, Onn Thein, J. Hazeldine, Frances Grudzinska, Michael Hughes, Alice Jasper, Kay Por Yip, Elizabeth Sapey, Dhruv Parekh, David Thickett, Aaron Scott

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


Rational: Infection with the SARS-CoV2 virus is associated with elevated neutrophil counts. Evidence of neutrophil dysfunction in COVID-19 is based predominantly on transcriptomics or single functional assays. Cell functions are interwoven pathways, and so understanding the effect of COVID-19 across the spectrum of neutrophil function may identify tractable therapeutic targets.

Objectives: Examine neutrophil phenotype and functional capacity in COVID-19 patients versus age-matched controls (AMC)

Methods: Isolated neutrophils from 41 hospitalised, non-ICU COVID-19 patients and 23 AMC underwent ex vivo analyses for migration, bacterial phagocytosis, ROS generation, NET formation (NETosis) and cell surface receptor expression. DNAse 1 activity was measured, alongside circulating levels of cfDNA, MPO, VEGF, IL-6 and sTNFRI. All measurements were correlated to clinical outcome. Serial sampling on day 3-5 post hospitalisation were also measured.

Results: Compared to AMC, COVID-19 neutrophils demonstrated elevated transmigration (p=0.0397) and NETosis (p=0.0366), but impaired phagocytosis (p=0.0236) associated with impaired ROS generation (p
Conclusion: COVID-19 is associated with neutrophil dysfunction across all main effector functions, with altered phenotype, elevated migration, impaired antimicrobial responses and elevated NETosis. These changes represent a clear mechanism for tissue damage and highlight that targeting neutrophil function may help modulate COVID-19 severity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2021


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