Scientists identify potential contributor to hyperimmune responses in patients with severe COVID-19

Clonal expansion and activation of tissue-resident memory-like Th17 cells expressing GM-CSF in the lungs of severe COVID-19 patients

Hyperinflammation contributes to lung injury and subsequent acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) with high mortality in patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). To understand the underlying mechanisms involved in lung pathology, we investigated the role of the lung-specific immune response. We profiled immune cells in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and blood collected from COVID-19 patients with severe disease and bacterial pneumonia patients not associated with viral infection. By tracking T cell clones across tissues, we identified clonally expanded tissue-resident memory-like Th17 cells (Trm17 cells) in the lungs even after viral clearance. These Trm17 cells were characterized by a a potentially pathogenic cytokine expression profile of IL17A and CSF2 (GM-CSF). Interactome analysis suggests that Trm17 cells can interact with lung macrophages and cytotoxic CD8+ T cells, which have been associated with disease severity and lung damage. High IL-17A and GM-CSF protein levels in the serum of COVID-19 patients were associated with a more severe clinical course. Collectively, our study suggests that pulmonary Trm17 cells are one potential orchestrator of the hyperinflammation in severe COVID-19.