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Moser, Dominique; Feuerecker, Matthias; Biere, Katharina; Han, Bing; Hoerl, Marion; Schelling, Gustav; Kaufmann, Ines; Choukér, Alexander and Woehrle, Tobias (15. September 2022): SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia and bacterial pneumonia patients differ in a second hit immune response model. In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 12 [PDF, 1MB]


Secondary infections have been shown to complicate the clinical course and worsen the outcome of critically ill patients. Severe Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be accompanied by a pronounced cytokine release, and immune competence of these patients towards most pathogenic antigens remains uncompromised early in the disease. Patients with bacterial sepsis also exhibit excessive cytokine release with systemic hyper-inflammation, however, typically followed by an anti-inflammatory phase, causing immune paralysis. In a second hit immune response model, leukocyte activation capacity of severely ill patients with pneumonia caused by SARS-CoV-2 or by bacteria were compared upon ICU admission and at days 4 and 7 of the ICU stay. Blood cell count and release of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-2, IFNγ and TNF were assessed after whole-blood incubation with the potent immune stimulus pokeweed mitogen (PWM). For comparison, patients with bacterial sepsis not originating from pneumonia, and healthy volunteers were included. Lymphopenia and granulocytosis were less pronounced in COVID-19 patients compared to bacterial sepsis patients. After PWM stimulation, COVID-19 patients showed a reduced release of IFNγ, while IL-2 levels were found similar and TNF levels were increased compared to healthy controls. Interestingly, concentrations of all three cytokines were significantly higher in samples from COVID-19 patients compared to samples from patients with bacterial infection. This fundamental difference in immune competence during a second hit between COVID-19 and sepsis patients may have implications for the selection of immune suppressive or enhancing therapies in personalized medicine.

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