COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is responsible for about 15 million deaths globally since the pandemic began. Metabolon scientists, including Director of Research and Development, Dr. Annie Evans, have recently elucidated lipid profiles that stratify patients based on COVID-19 disease severity. Dr. Evans and her team presented their work at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Deuel Conference on Lipids this March. This conference draws leading lipid investigators from around the world to discuss novel lipids research findings.
Unraveling COVID-19 Severity with Lipidomics
COVID-19 manifests in a variety of ways—not everyone suffers from all symptoms or from any symptoms at all. Still, others wind up in the hospital with severe disease manifestations that often cause death. Understanding the factors that impact disease severity progression can provide an opportunity to develop novel diagnostics to monitor disease progression and inform clinical management strategies to better control the disease and prevent death.
Recent research suggests that lipid plasma levels, including high and low-density lipoproteins (HDLs and LDLs) correlate with infection severity. To further characterize this connection, Dr. Evans and colleagues leveraged Metabolon’s Complex Lipids Targeted Panel to identify lipids that differentiate infected individuals from healthy controls and also lipids that stratify infected individuals based on disease severity.
Lipids are notoriously difficult to study due to their diverse chemical structure. The Complex Lipids Targeted Panel is the only available panel that overcomes this challenge by providing both quantitative compositional analysis and complete speciation data. Dr. Evans played a key role in developing the panel, which covers 1,100 lipid species across 14 lipid classes, yielding unparalleled insight into the lipidome.
Elucidating the Lipid Profile of COVID-19
To determine whether unique lipid profiles are associated with COVID-19 disease severity, Dr. Evans and colleagues collected plasma samples from 13 patients with varying degrees of COVID-19 infection and from 9 healthy controls. A combination of Differential Mobility Spectroscopy (DMS) and Multiple Reaction Monitoring (MRM) identified 903 individual lipid species across all 14 lipid classes. There were significant differences in individual triacylglycerol (TAG) and ceramide family lipids between individuals with severe and mild COVID. Differences in ceramide lipids likely reflect the characteristic inflammatory response associated with COVID-19 progression and particularly with severe disease.
Lipidome-wide compositional changes were also observed, permitted by the Complex Lipids Targeted Panel’s single-point quantitation. Specifically, phosphatidylinositols, dihydroceramides, and diacylglycerols, as classes in total, were significantly upregulated between severe and mild COVID-19. Altogether, the comprehensive and quantitative methodology of the panel allowed a rigorous dissection of lipid changes involved in COVID-19 disease severity progression.
The results that Dr. Evans presented at the ASBMB Deuel Conference are a significant addition to the existing body of knowledge regarding the role of plasma lipids in COVID-19 severity. This work is a powerful example of how Metabolon’s best-in-class Complex Lipids Targeted Panel can further our understanding of disease etiology and progression to inform the development of improved diagnostics and treatment regimens.