Chest. 2020 Dec 11:S0012-3692(20)35351-4. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2020.11.049. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection causes direct lung damage, overwhelming endothelial activation, and inflammatory reaction, leading to acute respiratory failure and multi-organ dysfunction. Ongoing clinical trials are evaluating targeted therapies to hinder this exaggerated inflammatory response. Critically ill coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients have shown heterogeneous severity trajectories, suggesting that response to therapies is likely to vary across patients.
RESEARCH QUESTION: Are critically ill COVID-19 patients biologically and immunologically dissociable based on profiling of currently evaluated therapeutic targets?
STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: We did a single-center, prospective study in an ICU department in France. Ninety-six critically ill adult patients admitted with a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection were enrolled. We conducted principal components analysis and hierarchical clustering on a vast array of immunologic variables measured on the day of ICU admission.
RESULTS: We found that patients were distributed in three clusters bearing distinct immunologic features and associated with different ICU outcomes. Cluster 1 had a "humoral immunodeficiency" phenotype with predominant B-lymphocyte defect, relative hypogammaglobulinemia, and moderate inflammation. Cluster 2 had a "hyperinflammatory" phenotype, with high cytokine levels (IL-6, IL-1β, IL-8, tumor necrosis factor-alpha [TNF⍺]) associated with CD4+ and CD8+ T-lymphocyte defects. Cluster 3 had a "complement-dependent" phenotype with terminal complement activation markers (elevated C3 and sC5b-9).
INTERPRETATION: Patients with severe COVID-19 exhibiting cytokine release marks, complement activation, or B-lymphocyte defects are distinct from each other. Such immunologic variability argues in favor of targeting different mediators in different groups of patients and could serve as a basis for patient identification and clinical trial eligibility.