bioRxiv. 2022 Jul 19:2022.07.18.500514. doi: 10.1101/2022.07.18.500514. Preprint.
PURPOSE: The opportunistic fungus Aspergillus fumigatus infects the lungs of immunocompromised hosts, including patients undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplantation. More recently however, immunocompetent patients with severe SARS-CoV2 have been reported to be affected by COVID-19 Associated Pulmonary Aspergillosis (CAPA), in the absence of the conventional risk factors for invasive aspergillosis. This paper explores the hypothesis that contributing causes are the destruction of the lung epithelium permitting colonization by opportunistic pathogens. At the same time, the exhaustion of the immune system, characterized by cytokine storms, apoptosis, and depletion of leukocytes may hinder the response to Aspergillus infection. The combination of these factors may explain the onset of invasive aspergillosis in immunocompetent patients.
METHODS: We used a previously published computational model of the innate immune response to infection with Aspergillus fumigatus . Variation of model parameters was used to create a virtual patient population. A simulation study of this virtual patient population to test potential causes for co-infection in immunocompetent patients.
RESULTS: The two most important factors determining the likelihood of CAPA were the inherent virulence of the fungus and the effectiveness of the neutrophil population, as measured by granule half-life and ability to kill fungal cells. Varying these parameters across the virtual patient population generated a realistic distribution of CAPA phenotypes observed in the literature.
CONCLUSIONS: Computational models are an effective tool for hypothesis generation. Varying model parameters can be used to create a virtual patient population for identifying candidate mechanisms for phenomena observed in actual patient populations.