Human infections with the H7N9 virus could lead to lung damage and even multiple organ failure, which is closely associated with a high mortality rate. However, the metabolic basis of such systemic alterations remains unknown. This study included hospitalized patients (n = 4) with laboratory-confirmed H7N9 infection, healthy controls (n = 9), and two disease control groups comprising patients with pneumonia (n = 9) and patients with pneumonia who received steroid treatment (n = 10). One H7N9-infected patient underwent lung biopsy for histopathological analysis and expression analysis of genes associated with lung homeostasis. H7N9-induced systemic alterations were investigated using metabolomic analysis of sera collected from the four patients by using ultra-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Chest digital radiography and laboratory tests were also conducted. Two of the four patients did not survive the clinical treatments with antiviral medication, steroids, and oxygen therapy. Biopsy revealed disrupted expression of genes associated with lung epithelial integrity. Histopathological analysis demonstrated severe lung inflammation after H7N9 infection. Metabolomic analysis indicated that fatty acid metabolism may be inhibited during H7N9 infection. Serum levels of palmitic acid, erucic acid, and phytal may negatively correlate with the extent of lung inflammation after H7N9 infection. The changes in fatty acid levels may not be due to steroid treatment or pneumonia. Altered structural and secretory properties of the lung epithelium may be associated with the severity of H7N9-infection-induced lung disease. Moreover, fatty acid metabolism level may predict a fatal outcome after H7N9 virus infection.

Sun, Song, Feng, Li, Yu, Wang, Wang, Hou (2018). Fatty Acid Metabolism is Associated With Disease Severity After H7N9 Infection. EBioMedicine, 2018 Jul;33():218-229. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29941340