Global Speaker Series: Jean-Laurent Casanova, MD, PhD – Rockefeller University

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The Medicine by Design Global Speaker Series invites established and emerging international leaders in regenerative medicine to engage with our extraordinary community of researchers and clinicians.

Medicine by Design, in partnership with the McEwen Stem Cell Institute, is pleased to welcome Jean-Laurent Casanova, MD, PhD, from Rockefeller University.

Talk title: The human genetic and immunological determinants of life-threatening COVID-19

About Jean-Laurent Casanova

Jean-Laurent Casanova received his MD in 1987 and his PhD in 1992, after training at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Lausanne. He was appointed professor at Necker in 1999 and with Laurent Abel, co-founded the Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases. He was appointed professor at Rockefeller University in 2008 and named HHMI investigator in 2014. He continues to partner with Dr. Abel, maintaining their lab in Paris and NY.

Casanova studies the human genetic and immunological determinants of life-threatening infectious diseases. He searches for rare and common single-gene mutations that selectively compromise immunity of otherwise healthy individuals who are vulnerable to specific infectious diseases. He then searches for other causes disrupting the same mechanisms of host defense, and thus characterizes the causal mechanisms of life-threatening infectious diseases.

Talk abstract
Autosomal inborn errors of type I IFN immunity and autoantibodies against these cytokines underlie at least 10% of critical COVID-19 pneumonia cases. We report very rare, biochemically deleterious X-linked TLR7 variants in 16 unrelated male individuals aged 7 to 71 years (mean: 36.7 years) from a cohort of 1,202 male patients aged 0.5 to 99 years (mean: 52.9 years) with unexplained critical COVID-19 pneumonia. None of the 331 asymptomatically or mildly infected male individuals aged 1.3 to 102 years (mean: 38.7 years) tested carry such TLR7 variants (p = 3.5 × 10-5). The phenotypes of five hemizygous relatives of index cases infected with SARS-CoV-2 include asymptomatic or mild infection (n=2, 5 and 38 years), or moderate (n=1, 5 years), severe (n=1, 27 years), or critical (n=1, 29 years) pneumonia. Two boys (aged 7 and 12 years) from a cohort of 262 male patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia (mean: 51.0 years) are hemizygous for a deleterious TLR7 variant. The cumulative allele frequency for deleterious TLR7 variants in the male general population is < 6.5×10-4 We also show that blood B cell lines and myeloid cell subsets from the patients do not respond to TLR7 stimulation, a phenotype rescued by wild-type TLR7 The patients’ blood plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) produce low levels of type I IFNs in response to SARS-CoV-2. Overall, X-linked recessive TLR7 deficiency is a highly penetrant genetic etiology of critical COVID-19 pneumonia, in about 1.8% of male patients below the age of 60 years. Human TLR7 and pDCs are essential for protective type I IFN immunity against SARS-CoV-2 in the respiratory tract. Furthermore, circulating autoantibodies (auto-Abs) neutralizing high concentrations (10 ng/mL, in plasma diluted 1 to 10) of IFN-α and/or -ω are found in about 10% of patients with critical COVID-19 pneumonia, but not in subjects with asymptomatic infections. We detect auto-Abs neutralizing 100-fold lower, more physiological, concentrations of IFN-α and/or -ω (100 pg/mL, in 1/10 dilutions of plasma) in 13.6% of 3,595 patients with critical COVID-19, including 21% of 374 patients > 80 years, and 6.5% of 522 patients with severe COVID-19. These antibodies are also detected in 18% of the 1,124 deceased patients (aged 20 days-99 years; mean: 70 years). Moreover, another 1.3% of patients with critical COVID-19 and 0.9% of the deceased patients have auto-Abs neutralizing high concentrations of IFN-β. We also show, in a sample of 34,159 uninfected subjects from the general population, that auto-Abs neutralizing high concentrations of IFN-α and/or -ω are present in 0.18% of individuals between 18 and 69 years, 1.1% between 70 and 79 years, and 3.4% >80 years. Moreover, the proportion of subjects carrying auto-Abs neutralizing lower concentrations is greater in a subsample of 10,778 uninfected individuals: 1% of individuals <70 years, 2.3% between 70 and 80 years, and 6.3% >80 years. By contrast, auto-Abs neutralizing IFN-β do not become more frequent with age. Auto-Abs neutralizing type I IFNs predate SARS-CoV-2 infection and sharply increase in prevalence after the age of 70 years. They account for about 20% of both critical COVID-19 cases in the over-80s, and total fatal COVID-19 cases.

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