Increased expression of hypoxia-induced factor 1α mRNA and its related genes in myeloid blood cells from critically ill COVID-19 patients

28 Dec, 2020



COVID-19 counts 46 million people infected and killed more than 1.2 million. Hypoxaemia is one of the main clinical manifestations, especially in severe cases. HIF1α is a master transcription factor involved in the cellular response to oxygen levels. The immunopathogenesis of this severe form of COVID-19 is poorly understood.


We performed scRNAseq from leukocytes from five critically ill COVID-19 patients and characterized the expression of hypoxia-inducible factor1α and its transcriptionally regulated genes. Also performed metanalysis from the publicly available RNAseq data from COVID-19 bronchoalveolar cells.


Critically-ill COVID-19 patients show a shift towards an immature myeloid profile in peripheral blood cells, including band neutrophils, immature monocytes, metamyelocytes, monocyte-macrophages, monocytoid precursors, and promyelocytes-myelocytes, together with mature monocytes and segmented neutrophils. May be the result of a physiological response known as emergency myelopoiesis. These cellular subsets and bronchoalveolar cells express HIF1α and their transcriptional targets related to inflammation (CXCL8, CXCR1, CXCR2, and CXCR4); virus sensing, (TLR2 and TLR4); and metabolism (SLC2A3, PFKFB3, PGK1, GAPDH and SOD2).


The up-regulation and participation of HIF1α in events such as inflammation, immunometabolism, and TLR make it a potential molecular marker for COVID-19 severity and, interestingly, could represent a potential target for molecular therapy.

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