Investigating the Role of Ferroptosis in COVID-19 Lung Pathology


Recent study sheds light on potential mechanisms underlying severe lung damage in COVID-19 patients.

Coronavirus infecting the lungs.

Coronavirus infecting the lungs.

Image credits: Unsplash

SARS-CoV-2 infection causes severe pulmonary issues, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood, with limited treatment options. Recent studies suggest ferroptosis, an iron-dependent cell death, may play a role in COVID-19 lung issues due to observed hyperferritinemia and disrupted lung iron balance. In vitro experiments using primary cells and cancerous lung epithelial cells showed iron overload promotes ferroptosis. Findings suggest ferroptosis may be significant in COVID-19 lung disease and propose pharmacological ferroptosis inhibition could prevent lung damage during SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The findings revealed elevated levels of ferroptosis markers, including transferrin receptor 1, particularly in cases with fatal outcomes. Additionally, abnormalities in lipids related to metabolism and ferroptosis were observed. Higher levels of ferritin light chain were also associated with more severe lung pathology in COVID-19 patients.

Main Takeaways

  1. The study suggests that ferroptosis, a form of cell death linked to iron overload is a major mechanism underlying severe lung damage in COVID-19 patients.
  2. Elevated levels of ferroptosis markers were observed in lung tissue from COVID-19 autopsies, especially in cases with fatal outcomes, indicating a potential association between ferroptosis and disease severity.
  3. Inhibition of ferroptosis emerges as a potential therapeutic strategy to safeguard lung function in COVID-19 patients, although further research is needed to validate the effectiveness of ferroptosis inhibitors as treatments.

“We detected ferroptosis as the major cell death mechanism associated with lung damage caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection, suggesting a target for therapeutics,” according to the investigators. “We detected predominant elevation of ferroptosis markers, including iron dysregulation, lipid peroxidation, depletion in PL-PUFAs, and elevation of lysophospholipids in post-mortem COVID-19 lung autopsy samples.”

Excessive iron levels in infected lungs were found to promote ferroptosis, prompting researchers to consider the inhibition of this process as a potential strategy to protect lung function in COVID-19 patients. Furthermore, markers related to ferroptosis proteins and lipids could serve as valuable indicators for assessing the severity of COVID-19 illness in patients.

Researchers looked at lung autopsies from COVID-19 patients. They used immunostaining and lipidomic analysis to check for levels of ferroptosis markers like transferrin receptor 1 and to see if malondialdehyde had built up in fatal cases. They also studied how lipids related to metabolism and ferroptosis were affected.

“We found significant elevation of ferroptosis features in both types of lung pathologies in patient autopsies,” according to the investigators. “Blood accumulation in lung parenchyma is often associated with COVID-19 lung manifestations. Ferroptosis is evident in blood-leakage-associated diseases, such as intracerebral hemorrhage, caused by the rupture of neuronal vessels and the leakage of blood into interstitial tissues.”

It is important to note that while the findings provide insights into the potential role of ferroptosis in COVID-19 lung pathology, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms involved and validate the effectiveness of ferroptosis inhibitors as potential treatments.

Qiu B, Zandkarimi F, Saqi A, et. al. Fatal COVID-19 Pulmonary Disease Involves Ferroptosis. Nature Communications. Published May 20, 2024. Accessed May 20, 2024.,oxidative%20stress%2C%20and%20lipid%20peroxidation
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