Cytokine. 2020 Sep 28;137:155302. doi: 10.1016/j.cyto.2020.155302. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: The effectual immune response is crucial to defeat viral infections. However, exuberant immune response with features of macrophage activation syndrome (MAS) lead detrimental consequences in COVID-19 patients. Interleukin (IL)-18 is one of the leading cytokines in MAS which has not been studied in COVID-19.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the association of IL-18 with the other inflammatory markers and disease severity in COVID-19 for predicting disease prognosis.
METHODS: Patients with COVID-19 who had confirmed diagnosis with SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid RT-PCR were enrolled into the study. Data on demographic and clinical characteristics, and laboratory values of CRP, ferritin, d-dimer and procalcitonin were measured on admission. Patients were followed up prospectively with a standardized approach until hospital discharge or death. Individuals were classified as asymptomatic, mild and severe pneumonia according to their clinical, laboratory and radiological characteristics. Worse outcome was defined as requirement of intensive care unit (ICU) admission or death. Blood samples were collected at enrollment and serum levels of IL-6 and IL-18 were determined by ELISA. Association between IL-18 and other inflammatory markers and prognosis were analyzed.
RESULTS: There were 58 COVID-19 patients (50% male) with a median age of 43 (min 22-max 81) years. Twenty age and sex matched healthy subjects were served as control group. The study population was divided into three groups according to disease severity: asymptomatic (n = 20), mild pneumonia group (n = 27) and a severe group (n = 11). During follow up nine (15.5%) patients required ICU admission and three of them were died eventually. Serum IL-18 were correlated with other inflammatory markers and biochemical markers of organ injury; creatinine, liver enzymes and troponin. Serum IL-18 levels were remarkably higher in COVID-19 patients compared to healthy subjects with being highest in severe pneumonia group (p < 0.001). IL-18 serum concentrations were almost four-fold higher in patients with worse outcome compared to good outcome (p < 0.001). Serum IL-18 above the cut off value of 576 pg/mL on admission was associated with 11.7 fold increased risk of ICU admission.
CONCLUSIONS: The serum concentrations of IL-18 correlate with other inflammatory markers and reflect disease severity. Results of the present study shed light on role of IL-18 on COVID-19 pathogenesis and might provide an evidence for the clinical trials on IL-18 antagonists for the treatment of severe COVID-19 patients.