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In EBioMedicine

BACKGROUND : Endothelial cell (EC) activation, endotheliitis, vascular permeability, and thrombosis have been observed in patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), indicating that the vasculature is affected during the acute stages of SARS-CoV-2 infection. It remains unknown whether circulating vascular markers are sufficient to predict clinical outcomes, are unique to COVID-19, and if vascular permeability can be therapeutically targeted.

METHODS : Prospectively evaluating the prevalence of circulating inflammatory, cardiac, and EC activation markers as well as developing a microRNA atlas in 241 unvaccinated patients with suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection allowed for prognostic value assessment using a Random Forest model machine learning approach. Subsequent ex vivo experiments assessed EC permeability responses to patient plasma and were used to uncover modulated gene regulatory networks from which rational therapeutic design was inferred.

FINDINGS : Multiple inflammatory and EC activation biomarkers were associated with mortality in COVID-19 patients and in severity-matched SARS-CoV-2-negative patients, while dysregulation of specific microRNAs at presentation was specific for poor COVID-19-related outcomes and revealed disease-relevant pathways. Integrating the datasets using a machine learning approach further enhanced clinical risk prediction for in-hospital mortality. Exposure of ECs to COVID-19 patient plasma resulted in severity-specific gene expression responses and EC barrier dysfunction, which was ameliorated using angiopoietin-1 mimetic or recombinant Slit2-N.

INTERPRETATION : Integration of multi-omics data identified microRNA and vascular biomarkers prognostic of in-hospital mortality in COVID-19 patients and revealed that vascular stabilizing therapies should be explored as a treatment for endothelial dysfunction in COVID-19, and other severe diseases where endothelial dysfunction has a central role in pathogenesis.

FUNDING INFORMATION : This work was directly supported by grant funding from the Ted Rogers Center for Heart Research, Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the Peter Munk Cardiac Center, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Gustafson Dakota, Ngai Michelle, Wu Ruilin, Hou Huayun, Schoffel Alice Carvalhal, Erice Clara, Mandla Serena, Billia Filio, Wilson Michael D, Radisic Milica, Fan Eddy, Trahtemberg Uriel, Baker Andrew, McIntosh Chris, Fan Chun-Po S, Dos Santos Claudia C, Kain Kevin C, Hanneman Kate, Thavendiranathan Paaladinesh, Fish Jason E, Howe Kathryn L


Biomarkers, COVID-19, Cardiovascular risk, Endothelium, Inflammation, MicroRNA