Role of neutrophils may become the key to controlling severe COVID-19 cases

Scientists and healthcare professionals have been dedicating themselves to develop an effective treatment for COVID-19.

An international consortium called NETwork recently published an article that suggests the role of neutrophils in severe cases of COVID-19 infections. They emphasize the similarity of severe respiratory conditions caused by neutrophils and extreme cases of COVID-19 infection.

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cells, and they are the first to recognize and eliminate pathogens that enter the body. Interestingly, these neutrophils can form a web-like structure – called neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) – by releasing their DNA and proteins to capture pathogens.

NETs were first identified in 2004, and excessive production of NETs were known to cause microthrombus, destruction of nearby tissues, and permanent organ damages especially in the pulmonary, cardiovascular, and renal systems.

The research group noted that there are similarities between the NET-caused symptoms and severe cases of the new coronavirus infection. Extreme COVID-19 symptoms – just like the ones patients with NET-induced respiratory failures show – include inflammatory reactions as well as damages to respiratory organs.

Due to these connection between symptoms of respiratory failure and severe COVID-19 cases, NETwork also predicted NET activation could become the key in developing effective treatment against new coronavirus.

If the findings are confirmed through further studies, designing drugs against COVID-19 can become less of a challenge. Drugs that suppress neutrophil activities could be utilized to give COVID-19 patients hopes in managing severe respiratory complications. Since some drugs for autoimmune conditions target neutrophil activity, current treatments widely used for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and gouts can also be used to treat COVID-19 patients.

The research team intends to identify the presence of NETs to determine whether NETs are partly responsible for severe pulmonary symptoms of COVID-19 cases or not.

BARNES, Betsy J., et al. Targeting potential drivers of COVID-19: Neutrophil extracellular traps. Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2020, 217.6.