Overlapping but Disparate Inflammatory and Immunosuppressive Responses to SARS-CoV-2 and Bacterial Sepsis: An Immunological Time Course Analysis

Tyler J. Loftus, Ricardo Ungaro, Marvin Dirain, Philip A. Efron, Monty B. Mazer, Kenneth E. Remy, Richard S. Hotchkiss, Luer Zhong, Rhonda Bacher, Petr Starostik, Lyle L. Moldawer, Scott C. Brakenridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Both severe SARS-CoV-2 infections and bacterial sepsis exhibit an immunological dyscrasia and propensity for secondary infections. The nature of the immunological dyscrasias for these differing etiologies and their time course remain unclear. In this study, thirty hospitalized patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection were compared with ten critically ill patients with bacterial sepsis over 21 days, as well as ten healthy control subjects. Blood was sampled between days 1 and 21 after admission for targeted plasma biomarker analysis, cellular phenotyping, and leukocyte functional analysis via enzyme-linked immunospot assay. We found that circulating inflammatory markers were significantly higher early after bacterial sepsis compared with SARS-CoV-2. Both cohorts exhibited profound immune suppression through 21 days (suppressed HLA-DR expression, reduced mononuclear cell IFN-gamma production), and expanded numbers of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). In addition, MDSC expansion and ex vivo production of IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha were resolving over time in bacterial sepsis, whereas in SARS-CoV-2, immunosuppression and inflammation were accelerating. Despite less severe initial physiologic derangement, SARS-CoV-2 patients had similar incidence of secondary infections (23% vs 30%) as bacterial sepsis patients. Finally, COVID patients who developed secondary bacterial infections exhibited profound immunosuppression evident by elevated sPD-L1 and depressed HLA-DR. Although both bacterial sepsis and SARS-CoV-2 are associated with inflammation and immune suppression, their immune dyscrasia temporal patterns and clinical outcomes are different. SARS-CoV-2 patients had less severe early inflammation and organ dysfunction but had persistent inflammation and immunosuppression and suffered worse clinical outcomes, especially when SARS-CoV-2 infection was followed by secondary bacterial infection.

Original languageEnglish
Article number792448
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - Dec 9 2021


  • ELISpot
  • MDSC
  • immune response
  • immune suppression
  • inflammation


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