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In Frontiers in immunology ; h5-index 100.0

BACKGROUND : The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a pandemic disease that threatens worldwide public health, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common autoimmune disease. COVID-19 and RA are each strong risk factors for the other, but their molecular mechanisms are unclear. This study aims to investigate the biomarkers between COVID-19 and RA from the mechanism of pyroptosis and find effective disease-targeting drugs.

METHODS : We obtained the common gene shared by COVID-19, RA (GSE55235), and pyroptosis using bioinformatics analysis and then did the principal component analysis(PCA). The Co-genes were evaluated by Gene Ontology (GO), Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG), and ClueGO for functional enrichment, the protein-protein interaction (PPI) network was built by STRING, and the k-means machine learning algorithm was employed for cluster analysis. Modular analysis utilizing Cytoscape to identify hub genes, functional enrichment analysis with Metascape and GeneMANIA, and NetworkAnalyst for gene-drug prediction. Network pharmacology analysis was performed to identify target drug-related genes intersecting with COVID-19, RA, and pyroptosis to acquire Co-hub genes and construct transcription factor (TF)-hub genes and miRNA-hub genes networks by NetworkAnalyst. The Co-hub genes were validated using GSE55457 and GSE93272 to acquire the Key gene, and their efficacy was assessed using receiver operating curves (ROC); SPEED2 was then used to determine the upstream pathway. Immune cell infiltration was analyzed using CIBERSORT and validated by the HPA database. Molecular docking, molecular dynamics simulation, and molecular mechanics-generalized born surface area (MM-GBSA) were used to explore and validate drug-gene relationships through computer-aided drug design.

RESULTS : COVID-19, RA, and pyroptosis-related genes were enriched in pyroptosis and pro-inflammatory pathways(the NOD-like receptor family pyrin domain containing 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome complex, death-inducing signaling complex, regulation of interleukin production), natural immune pathways (Network map of SARS-CoV-2 signaling pathway, activation of NLRP3 inflammasome by SARS-CoV-2) and COVID-19-and RA-related cytokine storm pathways (IL, nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB), TNF signaling pathway and regulation of cytokine-mediated signaling). Of these, CASP1 is the most involved pathway and is closely related to minocycline. YY1, hsa-mir-429, and hsa-mir-34a-5p play an important role in the expression of CASP1. Monocytes are high-caspase-1-expressing sentinel cells. Minocycline can generate a highly stable state for biochemical activity by docking closely with the active region of caspase-1.

CONCLUSIONS : Caspase-1 is a common biomarker for COVID-19, RA, and pyroptosis, and it may be an important mediator of the excessive inflammatory response induced by SARS-CoV-2 in RA patients through pyroptosis. Minocycline may counteract cytokine storm inflammation in patients with COVID-19 combined with RA by inhibiting caspase-1 expression.

Zheng Qingcong, Lin Rongjie, Chen Yuchao, Lv Qi, Zhang Jin, Zhai Jingbo, Xu Weihong, Wang Wanming


COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, caspase-1, minocycline, pyroptosis, rheumatoid arthritis