Distinct systemic and mucosal immune responses during acute SARS-CoV-2

Coordinated local mucosal and systemic immune responses following severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection either protect against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pathologies or fail, leading to severe clinical outcomes. To understand this process, we performed an integrated analysis of SARS-CoV-2 spike-specific antibodies, cytokines, viral load and bacterial communities in paired nasopharyngeal swabs and plasma samples from a cohort of clinically distinct patients with COVID-19 during acute infection. Plasma viral load was associated with systemic inflammatory cytokines that were elevated in severe COVID-19, and also with spike-specific neutralizing antibodies. By contrast, nasopharyngeal viral load correlated with SARS-CoV-2 humoral responses but inversely with interferon responses, the latter associating with protective microbial communities.

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Fig: Systemic and mucosal antibody responses in patients with COVID-19

Potential pathogenic microorganisms, often implicated in secondary respiratory infections, were associated with mucosal inflammation and elevated in severe COVID-19. Our results demonstrate distinct tissue compartmentalization of SARS-CoV-2 immune responses and highlight a role for the nasopharyngeal microbiome in regulating local and systemic immunity that determines COVID-19 clinical outcomes.

Smith, N., Goncalves, P., Charbit, B. et al. Distinct systemic and mucosal immune responses during acute SARS-CoV-2 infection. Nat Immunol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41590-021-01028-7

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