Therapeutic implications of ongoing alveolar viral replication in COVID-19

Dennis McGonagle*, Mary F. Kearney, Anthony O'Regan, James S. O'Donnell, Luca Quartuccio, Abdulla Watad, Charles Bridgewood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In patients with moderate-to-severe COVID-19 pneumonia, an aberrant post-viral alveolitis with excessive inflammatory responses and immunothrombosis underpins use of immunomodulatory therapy (eg, corticosteroids and interleukin-6 receptor antagonism). By contrast, immunosuppression in individuals with mild COVID-19 who do not require oxygen therapy or in those with critical disease undergoing prolonged ventilation is of no proven benefit. Furthermore, a window of opportunity is thought to exist for timely immunosuppression in patients with moderate-to-severe COVID-19 pneumonia shortly after clinical presentation. In this Viewpoint, we explore the shortcomings of a universal immunosuppression approach in patients with moderate-to-severe COVID-19 due to disease heterogeneity related to ongoing SARS-CoV-2 replication, which can manifest as RNAaemia in some patients treated with immunotherapy. By contrast, immunomodulatory therapy has overall benefits in patients with rapid SARS-CoV-2 clearance, via blunting of multifaceted, excessive innate immune responses in the lungs, potentially uncontrolled T-cell responses, possible autoimmune responses, and immunothrombosis. We highlight this therapeutic dichotomy to better understand the immunopathology of moderate-to-severe COVID-19, particularly the role of RNAaemia, and to refine therapy choices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e135-e144
JournalThe Lancet Rheumatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022


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