Acute Surge of Atypical Memory and Plasma B-Cell Subsets Driven by an Extrafollicular Response in Severe COVID-19

Taeseob Lee, Yuri Kim, Hyun Je Kim, Na Young Ha, Siyoung Lee, Bum Sik Chin, Nam Hyuk Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Despite the use of vaccines and therapeutics against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, this severe disease has been a critical burden on public health, whereas the pathogenic mechanism remains elusive. Recently, accumulating evidence underscores the potential role of the aberrant B-cell response and humoral immunity in disease progression, especially in high-risk groups. Methods: Using single-cell RNA (scRNA) sequencing analysis, we investigated transcriptional features of B-cell population in peripheral blood from COVID-19 patients and compared them, according to clinical severity and disease course, against a public B-cell dataset. Results: We confirmed that acute B cells differentiate into plasma cells, particularly in severe patients, potentially through enhanced extrafollicular (EF) differentiation. In severe groups, the elevated plasma B-cell response displayed increased B-cell receptor (BCR) diversity, as well as higher levels of anti–severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (anti–SARS-CoV-2) spike antibodies in plasma, than those in moderate cases, suggesting more robust and heterogeneous plasma cell response in severe COVID-19 patients. Trajectory analysis identified a differentiation pathway for the EF B-cell response from active naïve to atypical memory B cells (AM2), in addition to the emergence of an aberrant plasma cell subset (PC2), which was associated with COVID-19 progression and severity. The AM2 and PC2 subsets surged in the acute phase of the severe disease and presented multiple inflammatory features, including higher cytokine expression and humoral effector function, respectively. These features differ from other B-cell subsets, suggesting a pathogenic potential for disease progression. Conclusion: The acute surge of AM2 and PC2 subsets with lower somatic hypermutation and higher inflammatory features may be driven by the EF B-cell response during the acute phase of severe COVID-19 and may represent one of the critical drivers in disease severity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number909218
JournalFrontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology
StatePublished - 8 Jul 2022


  • B cells
  • COVID-19
  • antibody response
  • extrafollicular response
  • plasma cell


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