Aims Atypical lymphocytes circulating in blood have been reported in COVID-19 patients. This study aims to (1) analyse if patients with reactive lymphocytes (COVID-19 RL) show clinical or biological characteristics related to outcome; (2) develop an automatic system to recognise them in an objective way and (3) study their immunophenotype.
Methods Clinical and laboratory findings in 36 COVID-19 patients were compared between those showing COVID-19 RL in blood (18) and those without (18). Blood samples were analysed in Advia2120i and stained with May Grünwald-Giemsa. Digital images were acquired in CellaVisionDM96. Convolutional neural networks (CNNs) were used to accurately recognise COVID-19 RL. Immunophenotypic study was performed throughflow cytometry.
Results Neutrophils, D-dimer, procalcitonin, glomerular filtration rate and total protein values were higher in patients without COVID-19 RL (p<0.05) and four of these patients died. Haemoglobin and lymphocyte counts were higher (p<0.02) and no patients died in the group showing COVID-19 RL. COVID-19 RL showed a distinct deep blue cytoplasm with nucleus mostly in eccentric position. Through two sequential CNNs, they were automatically distinguished from normal lymphocytes and classical RL with sensitivity, specificity and overall accuracy values of 90.5%, 99.4% and 98.7%, respectively. Immunophenotypic analysis revealed COVID-19 RL are mostly activated effector memory CD4 and CD8 T cells.
Conclusion We found that COVID-19 RL are related to a better evolution and prognosis. They can be detected by morphology in the smear review, being the computerised approach proposed useful to enhance a more objective recognition. Their presence suggests an abundant production of virus-specific T cells, thus explaining the better outcome of patients showing these cells circulating in blood.
- morphological and microscopic findings
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AM and AV are joint first authors.
Handling editor Mary Frances McMullin.
Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published Online First. Details of first authorship has been added.
Funding This work is part of a research project funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain, with reference PID2019-104087RB-I00.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article.
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