Bulk RNA sequencing for analysis of post COVID-19 condition

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, much attention has been focused on understanding the acute phase of the disease. However, as the pandemic unfolds, researchers are increasingly recognizing the importance of studying the long-term effects of COVID-19, commonly referred to as Post COVID-19 Condition (PCC) or Long COVID.

Researchers at the Akershus University Hospital investigated the molecular mechanisms underlying PCC by analyzing gene expression patterns in whole blood samples collected from individuals with PCC. The study enrolled 80 participants, including individuals who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 and those who had not, over a period of 6 months. Bulk RNA sequencing, a powerful technique for analyzing gene expression on a large scale, was utilized to explore the transcriptome of PCC.

Flow diagram of study design

Fig. 1

Participant allocation throughout the study is depicted in Fig. 1: baseline (A), follow-up (B), transcriptome sequencing analysis (C). WHO World Health Organization; PCC Post COVID-19 Condition; PIFS, post-infectious fatigue syndrome

The results of the study revealed 13 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) associated with PCC. These genes are implicated in various biological processes, shedding light on the underlying mechanisms of PCC. Importantly, the enriched pathways identified were related to interferon signaling and anti-viral immune processes.

Interferons are key players in the body’s innate immune response to viral infections. The modest overexpression of interferon-stimulated genes observed in individuals with PCC suggests an ongoing inflammatory response even in the post-acute phase of the disease. This finding underscores the complex nature of PCC and suggests potential avenues for further research and therapeutic interventions.

Understanding the molecular basis of PCC is essential for developing targeted treatments and interventions to alleviate symptoms and improve outcomes for individuals affected by this condition. By unraveling the intricate interplay of genes and pathways involved in PCC, researchers can pave the way for more effective strategies for diagnosis, management, and prevention of long-term complications associated with COVID-19.

This study provides valuable insights into the molecular landscape of PCC, highlighting the role of interferon signaling and immune processes in the pathogenesis of this condition. Further research is needed to elucidate the underlying mechanisms fully and develop targeted therapies to address the long-term sequelae of COVID-19.

Sommen SL, Zhao Z, Segtnan S, Stiansen-Sonerud T, Selvakumar J, Beier Havdal L, Gjerstad J, Wyller VBB, Lund Berven L. (2024) Bulk RNA sequencing for analysis of post COVID-19 condition in adolescents and young adults. J Transl Med 22(1):312. [article]

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