Erythroid precursors and progenitors suppress adaptive immunity and get invaded by SARS-CoV-2.

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SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with lower blood oxygen levels, even in patients without hypoxia requiring hospitalization. This discordance illustrates the need for a more unifying explanation as to whether SARS-CoV-2 directly or indirectly affects erythropoiesis. Here, we show significantly enriched CD71+ erythroid precursors/progenitors in the blood circulation of COVID-19 patients. We found that these cells have distinctive immunosuppressive properties. In agreement, we observed a strong negative correlation between the frequency of these cells with T and B cell proportions in COVID-19 patients. The expansion of these CD71+ erythroid precursors/progenitors was negatively correlated with the hemoglobin levels. A subpopulation of abundant erythroid cells, CD45+ CD71+ cells, co-express ACE2, TMPRSS2, CD147, and CD26, and these can be infected with SARS-CoV-2. In turn, pre-treatment of erythroid cells with dexamethasone significantly diminished ACE2/TMPRSS2 expression and subsequently reduced their infectivity with SARS-CoV-2. This provides a novel insight into the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on erythropoiesis and hypoxia seen in COVID-19 patients.

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Authors: Shima Shahbaz, Lai Xu, Mohammed Osman, Wendy Sligl, Justin Shields, Michael Joyce, D Lorne Tyrrell, Olaide Oyegbami, Shokrollah Elahi