Increased monocyte distribution width in COVID-19 and sepsis arises from a complex interplay of altered monocyte cellular size and subset frequency

Martina Cusinato*, Linda Hadcocks, Simon Yona, Timothy Planche, Derek Macallan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Introduction: Monocyte distribution width (MDW), a parameter generated alongside full blood counts (FBC) in new-generation haematology analysers, has been proposed as a diagnostic test for severe infection/sepsis. It represents the standard deviation (SD) of the monocyte mean volume (MMV). Methods: This study aimed to compare monocyte volumetric parameters retrieved by the UniCel DxH 900 haematology analyser (MMV and MDW) against corresponding parameters from the same sample measured using flow cytometry (forward scatter [FSC] mean and SD) in combination with phenotypic characterization of monocyte subtypes. We analysed blood samples from healthy individuals (n = 11) and patients with conditions associated with elevated MDW: sepsis (n = 26) and COVID-19 (n = 15). Results: Between-instrument comparisons of monocyte volume parameters (MMV vs. FSC-mean) showed relatively good levels of correlation, but comparisons across volume variability parameters (MDW vs. FSC-SD) were poor. Stratification on sample type revealed this lack of correlation only within the sepsis group. Flow cytometry analysis revealed that in healthy controls intermediate monocytes are the largest and non-classical the smallest cells. In each disease state, however, each monocyte subset undergoes different changes in volume and frequency that together determine the overall configuration of the monocyte population. Increased MDW was associated with reduced classical monocyte frequency and increased intermediate monocyte size. In COVID-19, the range of monocyte sizes (smallest to largest) reduced, whereas in sepsis it increased. Conclusion: Increased MDW in COVID-19 and sepsis has no single flow cytometric phenotypic correlate. It represents—within a single value—the delicate equipoise between monocyte subset frequency and size.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1029-1039
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Laboratory Hematology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. International Journal of Laboratory Hematology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • COVID-19
  • MDW
  • flow cytometry
  • monocytes
  • sepsis


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