A blood transcriptome-based analysis of disease progression, immune regulation, and symptoms in coronavirus-infected patients

Anguraj Sadanandam, Tobias Bopp, Santosh Dixit, David J.H.F. Knapp, Chitra Priya Emperumal, Paschalis Vergidis, Krishnaraj Rajalingam, Alan Melcher, Nagarajan Kannan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


COVID-19 patients show heterogeneity in clinical presentation and outcomes that makes pandemic control and strategy difficult; optimizing management requires a systems biology approach of understanding the disease. Here we sought to potentially understand and infer complex disease progression, immune regulation, and symptoms in patients infected with coronaviruses (35 SARS-CoV and 3 SARS-CoV-2 patients and 57 samples) at two different disease progression stages. Further, we compared coronavirus data with healthy individuals (n = 16) and patients with other infections (n = 144; all publicly available data). We applied inferential statistics (the COVID-engine platform) to RNA profiles (from limited number of samples) derived from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). Compared to healthy individuals, a subset of integrated blood-based gene profiles (signatures) distinguished acute-like (mimicking coronavirus-infected patients with prolonged hospitalization) from recovering-like patients. These signatures also hierarchically represented multiple (at the system level) parameters associated with PBMC including dysregulated cytokines, genes, pathways, networks of pathways/concepts, immune status, and cell types. Proof-of-principle observations included PBMC-based increases in cytokine storm-associated IL6, enhanced innate immunity (macrophages and neutrophils), and lower adaptive T and B cell immunity in patients with acute-like disease compared to those with recovery-like disease. Patients in the recovery-like stage showed significantly enhanced TNF, IFN-γ, anti-viral, HLA-DQA1, and HLA-F gene expression and cytolytic activity, and reduced pro-viral gene expression compared to those in the acute-like stage in PBMC. Besides, our analysis revealed overlapping genes associated with potential comorbidities (associated diabetes) and disease-like conditions (associated with thromboembolism, pneumonia, lung disease, and septicemia). Overall, our COVID-engine inferential statistics platform and study involving PBMC-based RNA profiling may help understand complex and variable system-wide responses displayed by coronavirus-infected patients with further validation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number141
JournalCell Death Discovery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology
  • Cancer Research


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