Publication Date



Journal of Medical Virology


Patients with severe COVID-19 often suffer from lymphopenia, which is linked to T-cell sequestration, cytokine storm, and mortality. However, it remains largely unknown how severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) induces lymphopenia. Here, we studied the transcriptomic profile and epigenomic alterations involved in cytokine production by SARS-CoV-2-infected cells. We adopted a reverse time-order gene coexpression network approach to analyze time-series RNA-sequencing data, revealing epigenetic modifications at the late stage of viral egress. Furthermore, we identified SARS-CoV-2-activated nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) and interferon regulatory factor 1 (IRF1) pathways contributing to viral infection and COVID-19 severity through epigenetic analysis of H3K4me3 chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing. Cross-referencing our transcriptomic and epigenomic data sets revealed that coupling NF-κB and IRF1 pathways mediate programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) immunosuppressive programs. Interestingly, we observed higher PD-L1 expression in Omicron-infected cells than SARS-CoV-2 infected cells. Blocking PD-L1 at an early stage of virally-infected AAV-hACE2 mice significantly recovered lymphocyte counts and lowered inflammatory cytokine levels. Our findings indicate that targeting the SARS-CoV-2-mediated NF-κB and IRF1-PD-L1 axis may represent an alternative strategy to reduce COVID-19 severity.


ChIP‐sequencing, lymphopenia, PD‐L1, SARS‐CoV‐2, time‐series transcriptomics

Included in

Neurology Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.