Complement and tissue factor-enriched neutrophil extracellular traps are key drivers in COVID-19 immunothrombosis

Emerging data indicate that complement and neutrophils contribute to the maladaptive immune response that fuels hyperinflammation and thrombotic microangiopathy, thereby increasing coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) mortality. Here, we investigated how complement interacts with the platelet/neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs)/thrombin axis, using COVID-19 specimens, cell-based inhibition studies, and NET/human aortic endothelial cell (HAEC) cocultures. Increased plasma levels of NETs, tissue factor (TF) activity, and sC5b-9 were detected in patients. Neutrophils of patients yielded high TF expression and released NETs carrying active TF. Treatment of control neutrophils with COVID-19 platelet-rich plasma generated TF-bearing NETs that induced thrombotic activity of HAECs. Thrombin or NETosis inhibition or C5aR1 blockade attenuated platelet-mediated NET-driven thrombogenicity. COVID-19 serum induced complement activation in vitro, consistent with high complement activity in clinical samples. Complement C3 inhibition with compstatin Cp40 disrupted TF expression in neutrophils. In conclusion, we provide a mechanistic basis for a pivotal role of complement and NETs in COVID-19 immunothrombosis. This study supports strategies against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 that exploit complement or NETosis inhibition.

Commentary. E-letter.

Author and source information

Authors: Skendros P, Mitsios A, Chrysanthopoulou A, Mastellos DC, Metallidis S, Rafailidis P, Ntinopoulou M, Eleni Sertaridou E, Tsironidou V, Tsigalou C, Tektonidou M, Konstantinidis T, Papagoras C, Mitroulis I, Germanidis G, Lambris JD*, Ritis K* | *Shared supervision
Reference: J Clin Invest. 2020 Oct 19;141374. doi: 10.1172/JCI141374. Online ahead of print.