Publication date: Nov 27, 2023
As SARS-CoV-2 continues to produce new variants, the demand for diagnostics and a better understanding of COVID-19 remain key topics in healthcare. Skin manifestations have been widely reported in cases of COVID-19, but the mechanisms and markers of these symptoms are poorly described. In this cross-sectional study, 101 patients (64 COVID-19 positive patients and 37 controls) were enrolled between April and June 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19, in ScE3o Paulo, Brazil. Enrolled patients had skin imprints sampled non-invasively using silica plates; plasma samples were also collected. Samples were used for untargeted lipidomics/metabolomics through high-resolution mass spectrometry. We identified 558 molecular ions, with lipids comprising most of them. We found 245 plasma ions that were significant for COVID-19 diagnosis, compared to 61 from the skin imprints. Plasma samples outperformed skin imprints in distinguishing patients with COVID-19 from controls, with F1-scores of 91. 9% and 84. 3%, respectively. Skin imprints were excellent for assessing disease severity, exhibiting an F1-score of 93. 5% when discriminating between patient hospitalization and home care statuses. Specifically, oleamide and linoleamide were the most discriminative biomarkers for identifying hospitalized patients through skin imprinting, and palmitic amides and N-acylethanolamine 18:0 were also identified as significant biomarkers. These observations underscore the importance of primary fatty acid amides and N-acylethanolamines in immunomodulatory processes and metabolic disorders. These findings confirm the potential utility of skin imprinting as a valuable non-invasive sampling method for COVID-19 screening; a method that may also be applied in the evaluation of other medical conditions. KEY MESSAGES: Skin imprints complement plasma in disease metabolomics. The annotated markers have a role in immunomodulation and metabolic diseases. Skin imprints outperformed plasma samples at assessing disease severity. Skin imprints have potential as non-invasive sampling strategy for COVID-19.