Human erythroid progenitors are directly infected by SARS-CoV-2: Implications for emerging erythropoiesis in severe COVID-19 patients

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We document here that intensive care COVID-19 patients suffer a profound decline in hemoglobin levels but show an increase of circulating nucleated red cells, suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 infection either directly or indirectly induces stress erythropoiesis. We show that ACE2 expression peaks during erythropoiesis and renders erythroid progenitors vulnerable to infection by SARS-CoV-2. Early erythroid progenitors, defined as CD34-CD117+CD71+CD235a-, show the highest levels of ACE2 and constitute the primary target cell to be infected during erythropoiesis. SARS-CoV-2 causes the expansion of colony formation by erythroid progenitors and can be detected in these cells after 2 weeks of the initial infection. Our findings constitute the first report of SARS-CoV-2 infectivity in erythroid progenitor cells and can contribute to understanding both the clinical symptoms of severe COVID-19 patients and how the virus can spread through the circulation to produce local inflammation in tissues, including the bone marrow.

Journal details

Volume 16
Issue number 3
Pages 428-436
Available online
Publication date