Preventing Mortality in COVID-19 Patients: Which Cytokine to Target in a Raging Storm?

Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
Ligong LuYou-Wen He


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection has resulted in tremendous morbidity and mortality worldwide. A major underlying cause of COVID-19 mortality is a hyperinflammatory cytokine storm in severe/critically ill patients. Although many clinical trials are testing the efficacy of targeting inflammatory cytokines/chemokines in COVID-19 patients, the critical inflammatory mediator initiating COVID-19 patient death is undefined. Here we suggest that the immunopathological pathway leading to COVID-19 mortality can be divided into three stages with distinct clinical features that can be used to guide therapeutic strategies. Our interpretation of the recently published clinical trials from COVID-19 patients suggests that the clinical efficacy in preventing COVID-19 mortality using IL-1 blockade is subjected to notable caveats, while that for IL-6 blockade is suboptimal. We discuss critical factors in determining appropriate inflammatory cytokine/chemokine targets, timing, and combination of treatments to prevent COVID-19 mortality.


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