Severe COVID-19 linked to increase in autoantibodies

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Hospitalized COVID-19 patients are substantially more likely to harbor autoantibodies -;antibodies directed at their own tissues or at substances their immune cells secrete into the blood -; than people without COVID-19, according to a new study.
Autoantibodies can be early harbingers of full-blown autoimmune disease.

If you get sick enough from COVID-19 to end up in the hospital, you may not be out of the woods even after you recover." PJ Utz, MD, professor of immunology and rheumatology, Stanford Medicine

Utz shares senior authorship of the study, which will be published Sept. 14 in Nature Communications, with Chrysanthi Skevaki, MD, PhD, instructor of virology and laboratory medicine at Philipps University Marburg in Germany, and Eline Luning Prak, MD, PhD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The study's lead authors are Sarah Chang, a former technician in Utz's lab; recent Stanford undergraduate Allen Feng, now a technician in the Utz lab; and senior research investigator Wenshao Meng, PhD, and postdoctoral scholar Sokratis Apostolidis, MD, both at the University of Pennsylvania.

The scientists looked for autoantibodies in blood samples drawn during March and April of 2020 from 147 COVID-19 patients at the three university-affiliated hospitals and from a cohort of 48 patients at Kaiser Permanente in California. Blood samples drawn from other donors prior to the COVID-19 pandemic were used as controls.

The researchers identified and measured levels of antibodies targeting the virus; autoantibodies; and antibodies directed against cytokines, proteins that immune cells secrete to communicate with one another and coordinate their overall strategy.

Upward of 60% of all hospitalized COVID-19 patients, compared with about 15% of healthy controls, carried anti-cytokine antibodies, the scientists found. This could be the result of immune-system overdrive triggered by a virulent, lingering infection. In the fog of war, the abundance of cytokines may trip off the erroneous production of antibodies targeting them, Utz said.

If any of these antibodies block a…
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