Key Points

  • SARS-CoV-2 induces robust gene expression and functional changes in platelets.

  • Platelet hyperreactivity may contribute to COVID-19 pathophysiology through increased platelet-platelet and platelet-leukocyte interactions.

There is an urgent need to understand the pathogenesis of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In particular, thrombotic complications in patients with COVID-19 are common and contribute to organ failure and mortality. Patients with severe COVID-19 present with hemostatic abnormalities that mimic disseminated intravascular coagulopathy associated with sepsis with the major difference being increased risk of thrombosis rather than bleeding. However, whether SARS-CoV-2 infection alters platelet function to contribute to the pathophysiology of COVID-19 remains unknown. In this study, we report altered platelet gene expression and functional responses in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. RNA sequencing demonstrated distinct changes in the gene expression profile of circulating platelets of COVID-19 patients. Pathway analysis revealed differential gene expression changes in pathways associated with protein ubiquitination, antigen presentation and mitochondrial dysfunction. The receptor for SARS-CoV-2 binding, ACE2, was not detected by mRNA or protein in platelets. Surprisingly, mRNA from the SARS-CoV-2 N1 gene was detected in platelets from 2/25 COVID-19 patients, suggesting platelets may take-up SARS-COV-2 mRNA independent of ACE2. Resting platelets from COVID-19 patients had increased P-selectin expression basally and upon activation. Circulating platelet-neutrophil, -monocyte, and -T-cell aggregates were all significantly elevated in COVID-19 patients compared to healthy donors. Furthermore, platelets from COVID-19 patients aggregated faster and showed increased spreading on both fibrinogen and collagen. The increase in platelet activation and aggregation could partially be attributed to increased MAPK pathway activation and thromboxane generation. These findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with platelet hyperreactivity which may contribute to COVID-19 pathophysiology.

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