Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) may manifest as thrombosis, stroke, renal failure, myocardial infarction, and thrombocytopenia, reminiscent of other complement-mediated diseases. Multiple clinical and preclinical studies have implicated complement in the pathogenesis of COVID-19 illness. We previously found that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein activates the alternative pathway of complement (APC) in vitro through interfering with the function of complement factor H, a key negative regulator of APC. Here, we demonstrated that serum from 58 COVID-19 patients (32 patients with minimal oxygen requirement, 7 on high flow oxygen, 17 requiring mechanical ventilation and 2 deaths) can induce complement-mediated cell death in a functional assay (the modified Ham test) and increase membrane attack complex (C5b-9) deposition on the cell surface. A positive mHam assay (>20% cellkilling) was present in 41.2% COVID-19 patients requiring intubation (n=7/17) and only 6.3% in COVID-19 patients requiring minimal oxygen support (n=2/32). C5 and factor D inhibition effectively mitigated the complement amplification induced by COVID-19 patient serum. Increased serum factor Bb level was associated with disease severity in COVID-19 patients, suggesting that APC dysregulation plays an important role. Moreover, SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins directly block complement factor H from binding to heparin, which may lead to complement dysregulation on the cell surface. Taken together, our data suggest that complement dysregulation contributes to the pathogenesis of COVID-19 and may be a marker of disease severity.
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