COVID-19 infection alters kynurenine and fatty acid metabolism, correlating with IL-6 levels and renal status.

JCI insight. 2020;5(14)

Plain language summary

There is increasing urgency for the development of Covid-19 therapies. Treatments preventing infection and decreasing the amount of virus in the body have largely been unsuccessful and so the focus has turned to host biological pathways, which may be altered by Covid-19 infection. This observational study of forty-nine Covid-19 positive and negative individuals aimed to determine alterations in the hosts metabolism. The results showed that Covid-19 infection was associated with disrupted host inflammatory and immune pathways. Markers for kidney dysfunction were also increased alongside raised blood sugar levels and fatty acids in the blood. It was concluded that inflammatory markers may be an indicator for disease severity and a target for Covid-19 therapy. Dietary therapy could be used to target blood fatty acid changes brought about by Covid-19 infection. This study could be used by healthcare professionals to understand that inflammation is increased in Covid-19 patients and in lieu of approved therapies, dietary intervention may be of benefit.


BACKGROUNDReprogramming of host metabolism supports viral pathogenesis by fueling viral proliferation, by providing, for example, free amino acids and fatty acids as building blocks.METHODSTo investigate metabolic effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection, we evaluated serum metabolites of patients with COVID-19 (n = 33; diagnosed by nucleic acid testing), as compared with COVID-19-negative controls (n = 16).RESULTSTargeted and untargeted metabolomics analyses identified altered tryptophan metabolism into the kynurenine pathway, which regulates inflammation and immunity. Indeed, these changes in tryptophan metabolism correlated with interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels. Widespread dysregulation of nitrogen metabolism was also seen in infected patients, with altered levels of most amino acids, along with increased markers of oxidant stress (e.g., methionine sulfoxide, cystine), proteolysis, and renal dysfunction (e.g., creatine, creatinine, polyamines). Increased circulating levels of glucose and free fatty acids were also observed, consistent with altered carbon homeostasis. Interestingly, metabolite levels in these pathways correlated with clinical laboratory markers of inflammation (i.e., IL-6 and C-reactive protein) and renal function (i.e., blood urea nitrogen).CONCLUSIONIn conclusion, this initial observational study identified amino acid and fatty acid metabolism as correlates of COVID-19, providing mechanistic insights, potential markers of clinical severity, and potential therapeutic targets.FUNDINGBoettcher Foundation Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Award; National Institute of General and Medical Sciences, NIH; and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NIH.

Lifestyle medicine

Fundamental Clinical Imbalances : Immune and inflammation
Patient Centred Factors : Triggers/Covid-19
Environmental Inputs : Microorganisms
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Not applicable
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable