When a virus makes its way into a person’s body, one of the immune system’s first responders is a set of pathogen-removal cells called macrophages. But macrophages are diverse; they don’t all target viruses in the same way.
Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering have discovered that the type of macrophages present in a person’s body might determine how likely they are to develop severe inflammation in response to COVID-19. Their study has been published in Nature Communications.
“Clinicians know that COVID-19 can cause a spectrum of disease severity from mild to severe symptoms. Why some people, and not others, develop very severe disease has been a mystery,” said Asst. Prof. Huanhuan Joyce Chen, who led the research with Qizhou Lian of the University of Hong Kong. “This is the first time anyone has linked the variation in symptoms to macrophages.”
A better model for COVID-19 infection
Studying the cellular and molecular effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been challenging for researchers who usually turn to model organisms to mimic human diseases, because mice, rats, and many other animals don’t develop the same COVID-19 symptoms as people. That’s why, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Joyce Chen Lab harnessed human stem cells to study the virus.