SARS-CoV-2 Spike Proteins and Cell-Cell Communication Inhibits TFPI and Induces Thrombogenic Factos in Human Lung Microvascular Endothelial Cell and Neutrophils: Implications for COVID-19 Coagulopathy Pathogenisis

In SARS-CoV-2-infected humans, disease progression is often associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome involving severe lung injury, coagulopathy, and thrombosis of the alveolar capillaries. The pathogenesis of these pulmonary complications in COVID-19 patients has not been elucidated. Autopsy study of these patients showed SARS-CoV-2 virions in pulmonary vessels and sequestrated leukocytes infiltrates associated with endotheliopathy and microvascular thrombosis. Since SARS-CoV-2 enters and infects target cells by binding its spike (S) protein to cellular angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), and there is evidence that vascular endothelial cells and neutrophils express ACE2, we investigated the effect of S-proteins and cell–cell communication on primary human lung microvascular endothelial cells (HLMEC) and neutrophils expression of thrombogenic factors and the potential mechanisms. Using S-proteins of two different SARS-CoV-2 variants (Wuhan and Delta), we demonstrate that exposure of HLMEC or neutrophils to S-proteins, co-culture of HLMEC exposed to S-proteins with non-exposed neutrophils, or co-culture of neutrophils exposed to S-proteins with non-exposed HLMEC induced transcriptional upregulation of tissue factor (TF), significantly increased the expression and secretion of factor (F)-V, thrombin, and fibrinogen and inhibited tissue factor pathway inhibitor (TFPI), the primary regulator of the extrinsic pathway of blood coagulation, in both cell types. Recombinant (r)TFPI and a thiol blocker (5,5′-dithio-bis-(2-nitrobenzoic acid)) prevented S-protein-induced expression and secretion of Factor-V, thrombin, and fibrinogen. Thrombomodulin blocked S-protein-induced expression and secretion of fibrinogen but had no effect on S-protein-induced expression of Factor-V or thrombin. These results suggests that following SARS-CoV-2 contact with the pulmonary endothelium or neutrophils and endothelial–neutrophil interactions, viral S-proteins induce coagulopathy via the TF pathway and mechanisms involving functional thiol groups. These findings suggest that using rTFPI and/or thiol-based drugs could be a viable therapeutic strategy against SARS-CoV-2-induced coagulopathy and thrombosis. View Full-Text