Triggers of COVID-19 'Cytokine Storm' Identified

By Reuters Staff

December 29, 2020

(Reuters) - A form of inflammatory cell death called panoptosis triggers the storm of cytokines, or inflammatory proteins, that causes critical illness in COVID-19, researchers say.

"During inflammatory cell death, cells spew out their contents instead of neatly packaging them away" as happens during routine cell death, Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital told Reuters. "Neighboring cells see the cytokines released and the other unexpected debris as a sign of danger, and they can respond by secreting more cytokines, allowing the cytokine storm to build."

Her team identified a synergy between two cytokines, TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma, as the cause of panoptosis in COVID-19. Mice given TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma developed the symptoms and organ damage of COVID-19 and died rapidly, Kanneganti said.

Treatment with antibodies that neutralize these two cytokines protected the mice from death, not just from COVID-19 but also from other life-threatening illnesses involving cytokine storms, such as sepsis, her team reported in Cell.

Trials are needed to test these treatments in humans, Kanneganti said.

SOURCE: Cell, online November 19, 2020.