Analysis of Co-inhibitory Receptor Expression in COVID-19 Infection Compared to Acute Plasmodium falciparum Malaria: LAG-3 and TIM-3 Correlate With T Cell Activation and Course of Disease.Front Immunol. 2020; 11:1870.FI
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) which is caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus is a severe flu-like illness which is associated with hyperinflammation and immune dysfunction. The virus induces a strong T and B cell response but little is known about the immune pathology of this viral infection. Acute Plasmodium falciparum malaria also causes acute clinical illness and is characterized by hyperinflammation due to the strong production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and a massive activation of T cells. In malaria, T cells express a variety of co-inhibitory receptors which might be a consequence of their activation but also might limit their overwhelming function. Thus, T cells are implicated in protection as well as in pathology. The outcome of malaria is thought to be a consequence of the balance between co-activation and co-inhibition of T cells. Following the hypothesis that T cells in COVID-19 might have a similar, dual function, we comprehensively characterized the differentiation (CCR7, CD45RO) and activation status (HLA-DR, CD38, CD69, CD226), the co-expression of co-inhibitory molecules (PD1, TIM-3, LAG-3, BTLA, TIGIT), as well as the expression pattern of the transcription factors T-bet and eomes of CD8+ and CD4+ T cells of PBMC of n = 20 SARS-CoV-2 patients compared to n = 10 P. falciparum infected patients and n = 13 healthy controls. Overall, acute COVID-19 and malaria infection resulted in a comparably elevated activation and altered differentiation status of the CD8+ and CD4+ T cell populations. T effector cells of COVID-19 and malaria patients showed higher frequencies of the inhibitory receptors T-cell immunoglobulin mucin-3 (TIM-3) and Lymphocyte-activation gene-3 (LAG-3) which was linked to increased activation levels and an upregulation of the transcription factors T-bet and eomes. COVID-19 patients with a more severe disease course showed higher levels of LAG-3 and TIM-3 than patients with a mild disease course. During recovery, a rapid normalization of these inhibitory receptors could be observed. In summary, comparing the expression of different co-inhibitory molecules in CD8+ and CD4+ T cells in COVID-19 vs. malaria, there is a transient increase of the expression of certain inhibitory receptors like LAG-3 and TIM-3 in COVID-19 in the overall context of acute immune activation.