Pathophysiology of acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection: a systematic literature review to inform EULAR points to consider

Authors: Aurélie Najm1 Alunno2, Xavier Mariette3,4 Terrier5,6 De Marco7,8, Jenny Emmel9, Laura Mason9, Dennis G McGonagle7,10 and M Machado11,12,13


Background The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is a global health problem. Beside the specific pathogenic effect of SARS-CoV-2, incompletely understood deleterious and aberrant host immune responses play critical roles in severe disease. Our objective was to summarise the available information on the pathophysiology of COVID-19.

Methods Two reviewers independently identified eligible studies according to the following PICO framework: P (population): patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection; I (intervention): any intervention/no intervention; C (comparator): any comparator; O (outcome) any clinical or serological outcome including but not limited to immune cell phenotype and function and serum cytokine concentration.

Results Of the 55 496 records yielded, 84 articles were eligible for inclusion according to question-specific research criteria. Proinflammatory cytokine expression, including interleukin-6 (IL-6), was increased, especially in severe COVID-19, although not as high as other states with severe systemic inflammation. The myeloid and lymphoid compartments were differentially affected by SARS-CoV-2 infection depending on disease phenotype. Failure to maintain high interferon (IFN) levels was characteristic of severe forms of COVID-19 and could be related to loss-of-function mutations in the IFN pathway and/or the presence of anti-IFN antibodies. Antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infection showed a high variability across individuals and disease spectrum. Multiparametric algorithms showed variable diagnostic performances in predicting survival, hospitalisation, disease progression or severity, and mortality.

Conclusions SARS-CoV-2 infection affects both humoral and cellular immunity depending on both disease severity and individual parameters. This systematic literature review informed the EULAR ‘points to consider’ on COVID-19 pathophysiology and immunomodulatory therapies.

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