The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that emerged in late 2019 has spread globally, causing a pandemic of respiratory illness designated coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Robust blood biomarkers that reflect tissue damage are urgently needed to better stratify and triage infected patients. Here, we use spatial transcriptomics to generate an in-depth picture of the pulmonary transcriptional landscape of COVID-19 (10 patients), pandemic H1N1 (pH1N1) influenza (5) and uninfected control patients (4). Host transcriptomics showed a significant upregulation of genes associated with inflammation, type I interferon production, coagulation and angiogenesis in the lungs of COVID-19 patients compared to non-infected controls. SARS-CoV-2 was non-uniformly distributed in lungs with few areas of high viral load and these were largely only associated with an increased type I interferon response. A very limited number of genes were differentially expressed between the lungs of influenza and COVID-19 patients. Specific interferon-associated genes (including IFI27) were identified as candidate novel biomarkers for COVID-19 differentiating this COVID-19 from influenza. Collectively, these data demonstrate that spatial transcriptomics is a powerful tool to identify novel gene signatures within tissues, offering new insights into the pathogenesis of SARS-COV-2 to aid in patient triage and treatment.

Citation Format: Arutha Kulasinghe. Spatial profiling of lung SARS-CoV-2 and influenza virus infection identifies virus specific host responses and gene signatures [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the AACR Virtual Meeting: COVID-19 and Cancer; 2021 Feb 3-5. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Clin Cancer Res 2021;27(6_Suppl):Abstract nr S03-04.