Severe COVID-19 and aging: are monocytes the key?Geroscience. 2020 08; 42(4):1051-1061.G
The ongoing pandemic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) causes a disproportionate number of severe cases and deaths in older adults. Severe SARS-CoV-2-associated disease (coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020 and is characterized by cytokine storm, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and in some cases by systemic inflammation-related pathology. Currently, our knowledge of the determinants of severe COVID-19 is primarily observational. Here, I review emerging evidence to argue that monocytes, a circulating innate immune cell, are principal players in cytokine storm and associated pathologies in COVID-19. I also describe changes in monocyte function and phenotype that are characteristic of both aging and severe COVID-19, which suggests a potential mechanism underlying increased morbidity and mortality due to SARS-CoV-2 infection in older adults. The innate immune system is therefore a potentially important target for therapeutic treatment of COVID-19, but experimental studies are needed, and SARS-CoV-2 presents unique challenges for pre-clinical and mechanistic studies in vivo. The immediate establishment of colonies of SARS-CoV-2-susceptible animal models for aging studies, as well as strong collaborative efforts in the geroscience community, will be required in order to develop the therapies needed to combat severe COVID-19 in older adult populations.