In Vitro-Administered Dexamethasone Suppresses T Cell Function With Reversal by Interleukin-7 in Coronavirus Disease 2019

Monty B. Mazer, Ethan Davitt, Isaiah R. Turnbull, Charles C. Caldwell, Scott C. Brakenridge, Kenneth E. Remy, Richard S. Hotchkiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objectives: Corticosteroid therapy has become standard of care therapy for hospitalized patients infected with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 global pandemic-causing virus. Whereas systemic inflammation is a notably important feature in coronavirus disease 2019 pathogenesis, adaptive immune suppression and the inability to eradicate effectively the virus remain significant factors as well. We sought to evaluate the in vitro effects of dexamethasone phosphate on T cell function in peripheral blood mononuclear cells derived from patients with acute, severe, and moderate coronavirus disease 2019. Design: Prospective in vitro laboratory study. Setting: Coronavirus disease 2019-specific medical wards and ICUs at a single-center, quaternary-care academic hospital between October 1, 2020, and November 15, 2020. Patients: Eleven patients diagnosed with coronavirus disease 2019 admitted to either the ICU or hospital coronavirus disease 2019 unit. Three patients had received at least one dose of dexamethasone prior to enrollment. Interventions: Fresh whole blood was collected, and peripheral blood mononuclear cells were immediately isolated and plated onto precoated enzyme-linked immunospot plates for detection of interferon-γ production. Samples were incubated with CD3/CD28 antibodies alone and with three concentrations of dexamethasone. These conditions were also stimulated with recombinant human interleukin-7. Following overnight incubation, the plates were washed and stained for analysis using Cellular Technology Limited ImmunoSpot S6 universal analyzer (ImmunoSpot by Cellular Technology Limited, Cleveland, OH). Measurements AND MAIN RESULTS: Functional cytokine production was assessed by quantitation of cell spot number and total well intensity after calculation for each enzyme-linked immunospot well using the Cellular Technology Limited ImmunoSpot Version 7.0 professional software (CTL Analyzers, Shaker Heights, OH). Comparisons were made using t test and using a nonparametric analysis of variance Friedman test. The number of functional T cells producing interferon-γ and the intensity of the response decrease significantly with exposure to 1.2-µg/mL dexamethasone. About 0.12 µg/mL does not significantly affect the functional immune response on enzyme-linked immunospot. Interleukin-7 increases the overall number of activated T cells, including those exposed to dexamethasone. Conclusions: Further evaluation of the effect of immunomodulatory therapies is warranted in coronavirus disease 2019. A refined functional, precision medicine approach that evaluates the cellular immune function of individual patients with coronavirus disease 2019 is needed to better define which therapies could have benefit or cause harm for specific patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E0378
JournalCritical Care Explorations
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2 2021


  • coronavirus disease 2019
  • corticosteroids
  • cytokine storm; dexamethasone; immunosuppression


Dive into the research topics of 'In Vitro-Administered Dexamethasone Suppresses T Cell Function With Reversal by Interleukin-7 in Coronavirus Disease 2019'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this