J Clin Immunol. 2021 Jan 18. doi: 10.1007/s10875-020-00949-6. Online ahead of print.
We describe the cytokine profiles of a large cohort of hospitalized patients with moderate to critical COVID-19, focusing on IL-6, sIL2R, and IL-10 levels before and after receiving immune modulating therapies, namely, tocilizumab and glucocorticoids. We also discuss the possible roles of sIL2R and IL-10 as markers of ongoing immune dysregulation after IL-6 inhibition. We performed a retrospective chart review of adult patients admitted to a tertiary care center with moderate to critical SARS-CoV-2 infection. Disease severity was based on maximum oxygen requirement during hospital stay to maintain SpO2 > 93% (moderate, 0-3 L NC; severe, 4-6 L NC or non-rebreather; critical, HFNC, NIPPV, or MV). All patients were treated using the institution's treatment algorithm, which included consideration of tocilizumab for severe and critical disease. The most common cytokine elevations among all patients included IL-6, sIL2R, IFN-γ, and IL-10; patients who received tocilizumab had higher incidence of IL-6 and sIL2R elevations. Pre-tocilizumab IL-6 levels increased with disease severity (p = .0151). Both IL-6 and sIL2R levels significantly increased after administration of tocilizumab in all severity groups; IL-10 levels decreased in severe (p = .0203), but not moderate or critical, patients after they received tocilizumab. Cluster analysis revealed association between higher admission IL-6, sIL2R, and CRP levels and disease severity. Mean IL-6, sIL2R, and D-dimer were associated with mortality, and tocilizumab-treated patients with elevated IL-6, IL-10, and D-dimer were more likely to also receive glucocorticoids. Accessible clinical cytokine panels may be useful for monitoring response to treatment in COVID-19. The increase in sIL2R post-tocilizumab, despite administration of glucocorticoids, may indicate the need for combination therapy in order to modulate more than one hyperinflammatory pathway in COVID-19. We also discuss the role of cytokines as potential biomarkers for use of adjunct glucocorticoid therapy.