Temporal Landscape of Human Gut RNA and DNA Viromes in SARS-CoV-2 Infection and Severity
Background: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the enveloped RNA virus SARS-CoV-2 primarily affects the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. SARS-CoV-2 was isolated from faecal samples and active viral replication was reported in human intestinal cells. The human gut also harbors an enormous amount of resident viruses (collectively known as virome) that play a role in regulating host immunity and pathophysiology. Understanding gut virome perturbation that underlies SARS-CoV-2
... lies SARS-CoV-2 infection and severity is an unmet need.Methods:We enrolled 98 COVID-19 patients with varying disease severity (3 asymptomatic, 53 mild, 34 moderate, 5 severe, 3 critical) and 78 non-COVID-19 controls matched for gender and co-morbidities. All study subjects had faecal specimens sampled at inclusion. Blood specimens were sampled for COVID-19 patients at admission to test for inflammatory markers and white cell counts. Among COVID-19 cases, 37 (38%) patients had serially faecal samples collected 2 to 3 times per week from time of hospitalization until after discharge. Using shotgun metagenomics sequencing, we sequenced and profiled the faecal RNA and DNA virome respectively. We investigated alterations and longitudinal dynamics of the gut virome in association with disease severity and blood parameters.Results: Patients with COVID-19 showed underrepresentation of Pepper mild mottle virus (RNA virus) and multiple bacteriophage lineages (DNA viruses) and enrichment of environment-derived eukaryotic DNA viruses in faecal samples, compared to non-COVID-19 subjects. Such gut virome dysbiosis persisted up to 30 days after disease resolution. Faecal virome in SARS-CoV-2 infection harboured more stress-, inflammation- and virulence-associated gene encoding capacities including those pertaining to bacteriophage integration, DNA repair, and metabolism and virulence associated with their bacterial host. Human faecal baseline abundance of 10 virus species (1 RNA virus, Pepper chlorotic spot virus, and 9 DNA virus species) inversely correlated with disease severity of COVID-19. These viruses were also inversely associated with blood levels of pro-inflammatory proteins, white cells and neutrophils. Among the 10 COVID-19 severity-associated DNA virus species, 4 showed inverse correlation with age; 5 showed persistent lower abundance both during disease course and after disease resolution relative to non-COVID-19 subjects.Conclusions: Both enteric RNA and DNA viromes were perturbed in COVID-19, which prolonged even after disease resolution. Gut virome may calibrate host immunity and regulate severity to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Our observation that gut viruses inversely correlated with both severity of COVID-19 and host age partly explains that older subjects are prone to severe and unfavorable COVID-19 outcomes. Our data altogether highlight the significance of human gut virome in COVID-19 disease course and potentially therapeutics.