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BackgroundAs a debilitating condition that can impact a whole spectrum of people and involve multi-organ systems, long COVID has aroused the most attention than ever. However, mechanisms of long COVID are not clearly understood, and underlying biomarkers that can affect the long-term consequences of COVID-19 are paramount to be identified.MethodsParticipants for the current study were from a cohort study of COVID-19 survivors discharged from hospital between Jan 7, and May 29, 2020. We profiled the proteomic of plasma samples from hospitalised COVID-19 survivors at 6-month, 1-year, and 2-year after symptom onset and age and sex matched healthy controls. Fold-change of >2 or <0.5, and false-discovery rate adjusted P value of 0.05 were used to filter differentially expressed proteins (DEPs). In-genuity pathway analysis was performed to explore the down-stream effects in the dataset of significantly up- or down-regulated proteins. Proteins were integrated with long-term consequences of COVID-19 survivors to explore potential biomarkers of long COVID.FindingsThe proteomic of 709 plasma samples from 181 COVID-19 survivors and 181 matched healthy controls was profiled. In both COVID-19 and control group, 114 (63%) were male. The results indicated four major recovery modes of biological processes. Pathways related to cell-matrix interactions and cytoskeletal remodeling and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and dilated cardiomyopathy pathways recovered relatively earlier which was before 1-year after infection. Majority of immune response pathways, complement and coagulation cascade, and cholesterol metabolism returned to similar status of matched healthy controls later but before 2-year after infection. Fc receptor signaling pathway still did not return to status similar to healthy controls at 2-year follow-up. Pathways related to neuron generation and differentiation showed persistent suppression across 2-year after infection. Among 98 DEPs from the above pathways, evidence was found for association of 11 proteins with lung function recovery, with the associations consistent at two consecutive or all three follow-ups. These proteins were mainly enriched in complement and coagulation (COMP, PLG, SERPINE1, SRGN, COL1A1, FLNA, and APOE) and hypertrophic/dilated cardiomyopathy (TPM2, TPM1, and AGT) pathways. Two DEPs (APOA4 and LRP1) involved in both neuron and cholesterol pathways showed associations with smell disorder.InterpretationThe study findings provided molecular insights into potential mechanism of long COVID, and put forward biomarkers for more precise intervention to reduce burden of long COVID.FundingNational Natural Science Foundation of China; Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (CAMS) Innovation Fund for Medical Sciences; Clinical Research Operating Fund of Central High Level Hospitals; the Talent Program of the Chinese Academy of Medical Science; Training Program of the Big Science Strategy Plan; Ministry of Science and Technology of the People's Republic of China; New Cornerstone Science Foundation; Peking Union Medical College Education Foundation; Research Funds from Health@InnoHK Program.

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National Center for Respiratory Medicine; State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Health and Multimorbidity; National Clinical Research Center for Respiratory Diseases; Institute of Respiratory Medicine, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences; Department of Clinical Research and Data Management, Center of Respiratory Medicine, China-Japan Friendship Hospital, Beijing, PR China; Changping Laboratory, Beijing, PR China.