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COVID-19 Can Trigger Self-Attacking Antibodies – Even in People That Had No Symptoms of Infection

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Infection Organ Damage Concept

Infection Organ Damage Concept

Cedars-Sinai Investigators Found Evidence of an Overactive Immune Response.

Infection with the virus that causes

To conduct their study, the Cedars-Sinai research team recruited 177 people with confirmed evidence of a previous infection with SARS-CoV-2. They compared blood samples from these individuals with samples taken from healthy people prior to the pandemic. All those with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection had elevated levels of autoantibodies. Some of the autoantibodies also have been found in people with diseases in which the immune system attacks its own healthy cells, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

“We found signals of autoantibody activity that are usually linked to chronic inflammation and injury involving specific organ systems and tissues such as the joints, skin and nervous system,” said Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, MMSc, director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute and co-senior author of the study.

Some of the autoantibodies have been linked to autoimmune diseases that typically affect women more often than men. In this study, however, men had a higher number of elevated autoantibodies than women.

“On the one hand, this finding is paradoxical given that autoimmune conditions are usually more common in females,” Fert-Bober said. “On the other hand, it is also somewhat expected given all that we know about males being more vulnerable to the most severe forms of COVID-19.”

The research team is interested in expanding the study to look for the types of autoantibodies that may be present and persist in people with long-haul COVID-19 symptoms. Because this study was in people infected before the advent of vaccines, the researchers will also examine whether autoantibodies are similarly generated in people with breakthrough infections.

“If we can better understand these autoantibody responses, and how it is that SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers and drives these variable responses, then we can get one step closer to identifying ways to treat and even prevent these effects from developing in people at risk,” Cheng said.

Reference: “Paradoxical sex-specific patterns of autoantibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infection” by Yunxian Liu, Joseph E. Ebinger, Rowann Mostafa, Petra Budde, Jana Gajewski, Brian Walker, Sandy Joung, Min Wu, Manuel Bräutigam, Franziska Hesping, Elena Rupieper, Ann-Sophie Schubert, Hans-Dieter Zucht, Jonathan Braun, Gil Y. Melmed, Kimia Sobhani, Moshe Arditi, Jennifer E. Van Eyk, Susan Cheng and Justyna Fert-Bober, 30 December 2021, Journal of Translational Medicine.
DOI: 10.1186/s12967-021-03184-8

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