Extracellular vesicle‐mediated endothelial apoptosis and EV‐associated proteins correlate with COVID‐19 disease severity

Extracellular Vesicles

Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), has lead to a global pandemic with a rising toll in infections and deaths. Better understanding of its pathogenesis will greatly improve the outcomes and treatment of affected patients. Here we compared the inflammatory and cardiovascular disease-related protein cargo of circulating large and small extracellular vesicles (EVs) from 84 hospitalized patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 with different stages of disease severity. Our findings reveal significant enrichment of proinflammatory, procoagulation, immunoregulatory and tissue-remodelling protein signatures in EVs, which remarkably distinguished symptomatic COVID-19 patients from uninfected controls with matched comorbidities and delineated those with moderate disease from those who were critically ill. Specifically, EN-RAGE, followed by TF and IL-18R1, showed the strongest correlation with disease severity and length of hospitalization. Importantly, EVs from COVID-19 patients induced apoptosis of pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells in the order of disease severity. In conclusion, our findings support a role for EVs in the pathogenesis of COVID-19 disease and underpin the development of EV-based approaches to predicting disease severity, determining need for patient hospitalization and identifying new therapeutic targets.

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Cigarette smoke (CS) represents one of the most relevant environmental risk factors for several chronic pathologies. Tissue damage caused by CS exposure is mediated, at least in part, by oxidative stress induced by its toxic and pro-oxidant components. Evidence demonstrates that extracellular vesicles (EVs) released by various cell types exposed to CS extract (CSE) are characterized by altered biochemical cargo and gained pathological properties. In the present study, we evaluated the content of oxidized proteins and phospholipid fatty acid profiles of EVs released by human bronchial epithelial BEAS-2B cells treated with CSE. This specific molecular characterization has hitherto not been performed. After confirmation that CSE reduces viability of BEAS-2B cells and elevates intracellular ROS levels, in a dose-dependent manner, we demonstrated that 24 h exposure at 1% CSE, a concentration that only slight modifies cell viability but increases ROS levels, was able to increase carbonylated protein levels in cells and released EVs. The release of oxidatively modified proteins via EVs might represent a mechanism used by cells to remove toxic proteins in order to avoid their intracellular overloading. Moreover, 1% CSE induced only few changes in the fatty acid asset in BEAS-2B cell membrane phospholipids, whereas several rearrangements were observed in EVs released by CSE-treated cells. The impact of changes in acyl chain composition of CSE-EVs accounted for the increased saturation levels of phospholipids, a membrane parameter that might influence EV stability, uptake and, at least in part, EV-mediated biological effects. The present in vitro study adds new information concerning the biochemical composition of CSE-related EVs, useful to predict their biological effects on target cells. Furthermore, the information regarding the presence of oxidized proteins and the specific membrane features of CSE-related EVs can be useful to define the utilization of circulating EVs as marker for diagnosing of CS-induced lung damage and/or CS-related diseases.

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