Logo Logo

Borrmann, Melanie; Brandes, Florian; Kirchner, Benedikt; Klein, Matthias; Billaud, Jean-Noël; Reithmair, Marlene; Rehm, Markus; Schelling, Gustav; Pfaffl, Michael W.; Meidert, Agnes S. (2023): Extensive blood transcriptome analysis reveals cellular signaling networks activated by circulating glycocalyx components reflecting vascular injury in COVID-19. Frontiers in Immunology, 14. ISSN 1664-3224

[thumbnail of fimmu-14-1129766.pdf] Published Article

The publication is available under the license Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (3MB)


Background: Degradation of the endothelial protective glycocalyx layer during COVID-19 infection leads to shedding of major glycocalyx components. These circulating proteins and their degradation products may feedback on immune and endothelial cells and activate molecular signaling cascades in COVID-19 associated microvascular injury. To test this hypothesis, we measured plasma glycocalyx components in patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection of variable disease severity and identified molecular signaling networks activated by glycocalyx components in immune and endothelial cells.

Methods: We studied patients with RT-PCR confirmed COVID-19 pneumonia, patients with COVID-19 Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and healthy controls (wildtype, n=20 in each group) and measured syndecan-1, heparan sulfate and hyaluronic acid. The in-silico construction of signaling networks was based on RNA sequencing (RNAseq) of mRNA transcripts derived from blood cells and of miRNAs isolated from extracellular vesicles from the identical cohort. Differentially regulated RNAs between groups were identified by gene expression analysis. Both RNAseq data sets were used for network construction of circulating glycosaminoglycans focusing on immune and endothelial cells.

Results: Plasma concentrations of glycocalyx components were highest in COVID-19 ARDS. Hyaluronic acid plasma levels in patients admitted with COVID-19 pneumonia who later developed ARDS during hospital treatment (n=8) were significantly higher at hospital admission than in patients with an early recovery. RNAseq identified hyaluronic acid as an upregulator of TLR4 in pneumonia and ARDS. In COVID-19 ARDS, syndecan-1 increased IL-6, which was significantly higher than in pneumonia. In ARDS, hyaluronic acid activated NRP1, a co-receptor of activated VEGFA, which is associated with pulmonary vascular hyperpermeability and interacted with VCAN (upregulated), a proteoglycan important for chemokine communication.

Conclusions: Circulating glycocalyx components in COVID-19 have distinct biologic feedback effects on immune and endothelial cells and result in upregulation of key regulatory transcripts leading to further immune activation and more severe systemic inflammation. These consequences are most pronounced during the early hospital phase of COVID-19 before pulmonary failure develops. Elevated levels of circulating glycocalyx components may early identify patients at risk for microvascular injury and ARDS. The timely inhibition of glycocalyx degradation could provide a novel therapeutic approach to prevent the development of ARDS in COVID-19.

View Item
View Item