SARS-CoV-2 productively infects primary human immune system cells in vitro and in COVID-19 patients

Marjorie C. Pontelli, Ítalo A. Castro, Ronaldo B. Martins, Leonardo La Serra, Flávio P. Veras, Daniele C. Nascimento, Camila M. Silva, Ricardo S. Cardoso, Roberta Rosales, Rogerio Gomes, Thais M. Lima, Juliano P. Souza, Brenda C. Vitti, Diego B. Caetite, Mikhael H.F. De Lima, Spencer D. Stumpf, Cassandra E. Thompson, Louis Marie Bloyet, Juliana E. Toller-Kawahisa, Marcela C. GianniniLetícia P. Bonjorno, Maria I.F. Lopes, Sabrina S. Batah, Li Siyuan, Rodrigo Luppino-Assad, Fabiola R. Oliveira, Maíra N. Benatti, Lorena L.F. Pontes, Rodrigo C. Santana, Fernando C. Vilar, Maria Auxiliadora-Martins, Pei Yong Shi, Thiago M. Cunha, Rodrigo T. Calado, Jose C. Alves-Filho, Dario S. Zamboni, Alexandre T. Fabro, Paulo Louzada-Junior, Rene D.R. Oliveira, Sean P.J. Whelan, Fernando Q. Cunha, Eurico Arruda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection is associated with a hyperinflammatory state and lymphocytopenia, a hallmark that appears as both signature and prognosis of disease severity outcome. Although cytokine storm and a sustained inflammatory state are commonly associated with immune cell depletion, it is still unclear whether direct SARS-CoV-2 infection of immune cells could also play a role in this scenario by harboring viral replication. We found that monocytes, as well as both B and T lymphocytes, were susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection in vitro, accumulating double-stranded RNA consistent with viral RNA replication and ultimately leading to expressive T cell apoptosis. In addition, flow cytometry and immunofluorescence analysis revealed that SARS-CoV-2 was frequently detected in monocytes and B lymphocytes from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients. The rates of SARS-CoV-2-infected monocytes in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from COVID-19 patients increased over time from symptom onset, with SARS-CoV-2-positive monocytes, B cells, and CD4+ T lymphocytes also detected in postmortem lung tissue. These results indicated that SARS-CoV-2 infection of blood-circulating leukocytes in COVID-19 patients might have important implications for disease pathogenesis and progression, immune dysfunction, and virus spread within the host.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbermjac021
JournalJournal of Molecular Cell Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • apoptosis
  • lymphocytes
  • lymphocytopenia
  • monocytes
  • peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology


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