Stefanie Kreutmair, Susanne Unger, Nicolás Gonzalo Núñez, Michael Bitzer, Antoine Roquilly, Burkhard Becher
Distinct immunological signatures discriminate severe COVID-19 from non-SARS-CoV-2-driven critical pneumonia
Immune profiling of COVID-19 patients has identified numerous alterations in both innate and adaptive immunity. However, whether those changes are specific to SARS-CoV-2 or driven by a general inflammatory response shared across severely ill pneumonia patients remains unknown. Here, we compared the immune profile of severe COVID-19 with non-SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia ICU patients using longitudinal, high-dimensional single-cell spectral cytometry and algorithm-guided analysis. COVID-19 and non-SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia both showed increased emergency myelopoiesis and displayed features of adaptive immune paralysis. However, pathological immune signatures suggestive of T cell exhaustion were exclusive to COVID-19. The integration of single-cell profiling with a predicted binding capacity of SARS-CoV-2 peptides to the patients’ HLA profile further linked the COVID-19 immunopathology to impaired virus recognition. Toward clinical translation, circulating CD56+T cell frequency was identified as a predictive biomarker for patient outcome. Our comparative immune map serves to delineate treatment strategies to interfere with the immunopathologic cascade exclusive to severe COVID-19.