Physical phenotype of blood cells is altered in COVID-19


Senior Member

Clinical syndrome coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) induced by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 is characterized by rapid spreading and high mortality worldwide. Although the pathology is not yet fully understood, hyperinflammatory response and coagulation disorders leading to congestions of microvessels are considered to be key drivers of the still-increasing death toll. Until now, physical changes of blood cells have not been considered to play a role in COVID-19 related vascular occlusion and organ damage. Here, we report an evaluation of multiple physical parameters including the mechanical features of five frequent blood cell types, namely erythrocytes, lymphocytes, monocytes, neutrophils, and eosinophils. More than four million blood cells of 17 COVID-19 patients at different levels of severity, 24 volunteers free from infectious or inflammatory diseases, and 14 recovered COVID-19 patients were analyzed. We found significant changes in lymphocyte stiffness, monocyte size, neutrophil size and deformability, and heterogeneity of erythrocyte deformation and size. Although some of these changes recovered to normal values after hospitalization, others persisted for months after hospital discharge, evidencing the long-term imprint of COVID-19 on the body.