Neutrophil extracellular traps induce the epithelial-mesenchymal transition: implications in post-COVID-19 fibrosis

L Pandolfi, S Bozzini, V Frangipane, E Percivalle, A Luigi, M Violatto, G Lopez, E Gabanti, L Carsana, M D'Amato, M Morosini, M Amici, M Nebuloni, T Fossali, R Colombo, L Saracino, V Codullo, M Gnecchi, P Bigini, F Baldanti, D Lilleri, F Meloni

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Received date: 10th November 2020

The release of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), a process termed NETosis, avoids pathogen spread but may cause tissue injury. NETs have been found in severe COVID-19 patients, but their role in disease development is still unknown. The aim of this study is to assess the capacity of NETs to drive epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of lung epithelial cells and to analyze the involvement of NETs in COVID-19. Neutrophils activated with PMA (PMA-Neu), a stimulus known to induce NETs formation, induce both EMT and cell death in the lung epithelial cell line, A549. Notably, NETs isolated from PMA-Neu induce EMT without cell damage. Bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of severe COVID-19 patients showed high concentration of NETs. Thus, we tested in an in vitro alveolar model the hypothesis that virus-induced NET may drive EMT. Co-culturing A549 at air-liquid interface with alveolar macrophages, neutrophils and SARS-CoV2, we demonstrated a significant induction of the EMT in A549 together with high concentration of NETs, IL8 and IL1β, best-known inducers of NETosis. Lung tissues of COVID-19 deceased patients showed that epithelial cells are characterized by increased mesenchymal markers. These results show for the first time that NETosis plays a major role in triggering lung fibrosis in COVID-19 patients.

Read in full at bioRxiv. 

This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on a preprint server, which is currently undergoing peer review at Scientific Reports. The findings have yet to be thoroughly evaluated, nor has a decision on ultimate publication been made. Therefore, the results reported should not be considered conclusive, and these findings should not be used to inform clinical practice, or public health policy, or be promoted as verified information.

Scientific Reports

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