In each influenza season, a distinct group of young, otherwise healthy individuals with no risk factors succumbs to life-threatening infection. To better understand the cause for this, we analyzed a broad range of immune responses in blood from a unique cohort of patients, comprising previously healthy individuals hospitalized with and without respiratory failure during one influenza season, and infected with one specific influenza A strain. This analysis was compared with similarly hospitalized influenza patients with known risk factors (total of n = 60 patients recruited). We found a sustained increase in a specific subset of proinflammatory monocytes, with high TNF-α expression and an M1-like phenotype (independent of viral titers), in these previously healthy patients with severe disease. The relationship between M1-like monocytes and immunopathology was strengthened using murine models of influenza, in which severe infection generated using different models (including the high-pathogenicity H5N1 strain) was also accompanied by high levels of circulating M1-like monocytes. Additionally, a raised M1/M2 macrophage ratio in the lungs was observed. These studies identify a specific subtype of monocytes as a modifiable immunological determinant of disease severity in this subgroup of severely ill, previously healthy patients, offering potential novel therapeutic avenues.


Suzanne L. Cole, Jake Dunning, Wai Ling Kok, Kambez Hajipouran Benam, Adel Benlahrech, Emmanouela Repapi, Fernando O. Martinez, Lydia Drumright, Timothy J. Powell, Michael Bennett, Ruth Elderfield, Catherine Thomas, MOSAIC investigators, Tao Dong, John McCauley, Foo Y. Liew, Stephen Taylor, Maria Zambon, Wendy Barclay, Vincenzo Cerundolo, Peter J. Openshaw, Andrew J. McMichael, Ling-Pei Ho


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