Increasing evidence has shown that Coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) severity is driven by a dysregulated immunologic response. We aimed to assess the differences in inflammatory cytokines in COVID-19 patients compared to contemporaneously hospitalized controls and then analyze the relationship between these cytokines and the development of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) and mortality. In this cohort study of hospitalized patients, done between March third, 2020 and April first, 2020 at a quaternary referral center in New York City we included adult hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and negative controls. Serum specimens were obtained on the first, second, and third hospital day and cytokines were measured by Luminex. Autopsies of nine cohort patients were examined. We identified 90 COVID-19 patients and 51 controls. Analysis of 48 inflammatory cytokines revealed upregulation of macrophage induced chemokines, T-cell related interleukines and stromal cell producing cytokines in COVID-19 patients compared to the controls. Moreover, distinctive cytokine signatures predicted the development of ARDS, AKI and mortality in COVID-19 patients. Specifically, macrophage-associated cytokines predicted ARDS, T cell immunity related cytokines predicted AKI and mortality was associated with cytokines of activated immune pathways, of which IL-13 was universally correlated with ARDS, AKI and mortality. Histopathological examination of the autopsies showed diffuse alveolar damage with significant mononuclear inflammatory cell infiltration. Additionally, the kidneys demonstrated glomerular sclerosis, tubulointerstitial lymphocyte infiltration and cortical and medullary atrophy. These patterns of cytokine expression offer insight into the pathogenesis of COVID-19 disease, its severity, and subsequent lung and kidney injury suggesting more targeted treatment strategies.
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