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Distinct lung-homing receptor expression and activation profiles on NK cell and T cell subsets in COVID-19 and influenza

By Demi Brownlie, Inga Rødahl, Renata Varnaite, Hilmir Asgeirsson, Hedvig Glans, Sara Falck-Jones, Sindhu Vangeti, Marcus Buggert, Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Jakob Michaëlsson, Sara Gredmark-Russ, Anna Smed-Sörensen, Nicole Marquardt

Posted 13 Jan 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.13.426553

Respiratory viral infections with SARS-CoV-2 or influenza viruses commonly induce a strong infiltration of immune cells into the lung, with potential detrimental effects on the integrity of the lung tissue. Despite comprising the largest fractions of circulating lymphocytes in the lung, little is known about how blood natural killer (NK) cells and T cell subsets are equipped for lung-homing in COVID-19 and influenza. Using 28-colour flow cytometry and re-analysis of published RNA-seq datasets, we provide a detailed comparative analysis of NK cells and T cells in peripheral blood from moderately sick COVID-19 and influenza patients, focusing on the expression of chemokine receptors known to be involved in leukocyte recruitment to the lung. The results reveal a predominant role for CXCR3, CXCR6, and CCR5 in COVID-19 and influenza patients, mirrored by scRNA-seq signatures in peripheral blood and bronchoalveolar lavage from publicly available datasets. NK cells and T cells expressing lung-homing receptors displayed stronger phenotypic signs of activation as compared to cells lacking lung-homing receptors, and activation was overall stronger in influenza as compared to COVID-19. Together, our results indicate migration of functionally competent CXCR3+, CXCR6+, and/or CCR5+ NK cells and T cells to the lungs in moderate COVID-19 and influenza patients, identifying potential common targets for future therapeutic interventions in respiratory viral infections.

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