Front Immunol. 2021 Oct 28;12:765330. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.765330. eCollection 2021.
AIMS: Although the exact factors promoting disease progression in COVID-19 are not fully elucidated, unregulated activation of the complement system (CS) seems to play a crucial role in the pathogenesis of acute lung injury (ALI) induced by SARS-CoV-2. In particular, the lectin pathway (LP) has been implicated in previous autopsy studies. The primary purpose of our study is to investigate the role of the CS in hospitalized COVID-19 patients with varying degrees of disease severity.
METHODS: In a single-center prospective observational study, 154 hospitalized patients with PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection were included. Serum samples on admission to the COVID-19 ward were collected for analysis of CS pathway activities and concentrations of LP proteins [mannose-binding lectin (MBL) and ficolin-3 (FCN-3)] & C1 esterase inhibitor (C1IHN). The primary outcome was mechanical ventilation or in-hospital death.
RESULTS: The patients were predominately male and had multiple comorbidities. ICU admission was required in 16% of the patients and death (3%) or mechanical ventilation occurred in 23 patients (15%). There was no significant difference in LP activity, MBL and FCN-3 concentrations according to different peak disease severities. The median alternative pathway (AP) activity was significantly lower (65%, IQR 50-94) in patients with death/invasive ventilation compared to patients without (87%, IQR 68-102, p=0.026). An optimal threshold of <65.5% for AP activity was derived from a ROC curve resulting in increased odds for death or mechanical ventilation (OR 4,93; 95% CI 1.70-14.33, p=0.003) even after adjustment for confounding factors. Classical pathway (CP) activity was slightly lower in patients with more severe disease (median 101% for death/mechanical ventilation vs 109%, p=0.014). C1INH concentration correlated positively with length of stay, inflammatory markers and disease severity on admission but not during follow-up.
CONCLUSION: Our results point to an overactivated AP in critically ill COVID-19 patients in vivo leading to complement consumption and consequently to a significantly reduced AP activity in vitro. The LP does not seem to play a role in the progression to severe COVID-19. Apart from its acute phase reaction the significance of C1INH in COVID-19 requires further studies.