Upregulation of human endogenous retroviruses in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of COVID-19 patients
Gorgoulis, Vassilis G
AffiliationDepartment of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Medical Statistics, Medical School, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Greece
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AbstractSevere COVID-19 pneumonia has been associated with the development of intense inflammatory responses during the course of infections with SARS-CoV-2. Given that human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) are known to be activated during and participate in inflammatory processes, we examined whether HERV dysregulation signatures are present in COVID-19 patients. By comparing transcriptomes of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) of COVID-19 patients and healthy controls, and peripheral blood monocytes (PBMCs) from patients and controls, we have shown that HERVs are intensely dysregulated in BALF of COVID-19 patients compared to those in BALF of healthy control patients but not in PBMCs. In particular, upregulation in the expression of specific HERV families was detected in BALF samples of COVID-19 patients, with HERV-FRD being the most highly upregulated family among the families analyzed. In addition, we compared the expression of HERVs in human bronchial epithelial cells (HBECs) without and after senescence induction in an oncogene-induced senescence model in order to quantitatively measure changes in the expression of HERVs in bronchial cells during the process of cellular senescence. This apparent difference of HERV dysregulation between PBMCs and BALF warrants further studies in the involvement of HERVs in inflammatory pathogenetic mechanisms as well as exploration of HERVs as potential biomarkers for disease progression. Furthermore, the increase in the expression of HERVs in senescent HBECs in comparison to that in noninduced HBECs provides a potential link for increased COVID-19 severity and mortality in aged populations. IMPORTANCE SARS-CoV-2 emerged in late 2019 in China, causing a global pandemic. Severe COVID-19 is characterized by intensive inflammatory responses, and older age is an important risk factor for unfavorable outcomes. HERVs are remnants of ancient infections whose expression is upregulated in multiple conditions, including cancer and inflammation, and their expression is increased with increasing age. The significance of this work is that we were able to recognize dysregulated expression of endogenous retroviral elements in BALF samples but not in PBMCs of COVID-19 patients. At the same time, we were able to identify upregulated expression of multiple HERV families in senescence-induced HBECs in comparison to that in noninduced HBECs, a fact that could possibly explain the differences in disease severity among age groups. These results indicate that HERV expression might play a pathophysiological role in local inflammatory pathways in lungs afflicted by SARS-CoV-2 and their expression could be a potential therapeutic target.
CitationKitsou K, Kotanidou A, Paraskevis D, Karamitros T, Katzourakis A, Tedder R, et al. Upregulation of Human Endogenous Retroviruses in Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid of COVID-19 Patients. Sinclair A, editor. Microbiology Spectrum. American Society for Microbiology; 2021.