New Study: Covid-19 May Cause the Body to Produce Anti-self Antibodies

The findings of a recent study show that infection with coronavirus can result in an immune response that lasts for a long time after the original infection and recovery, regardless of whether the symptoms are moderate or symptomless.

In the journal ‘Journal of Translational Medicine,’ the findings of the study have been published.

When a person becomes infected with a virus or other pathogen, their bodies release proteins known as antibodies, which identify foreign things and prevent them from infiltrating the cells of the body.

People, on the other hand, can create autoantibodies, which can damage the body’s own organs and tissues over time if they are exposed to certain stimuli.

During their research, the Cedars-Sinai experts discovered that persons who had previously been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have a wide variety of autoantibodies for up to six months after they have fully recovered.

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Prior to this study, researchers were aware that severe cases of COVID-19 can cause the immune system to become overworked, resulting in the production of autoantibodies.

For the first time, researchers have documented not only the development of increased autoantibodies following a mild or asymptomatic infection but also the persistence of these antibodies throughout time.

In the words of Justyna Fert-Bober, Ph.D., a research scientist in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute who is also a co-senior author of the paper, “These findings assist to understand what makes COVID-19 such a distinctive disease.”

According to Fert-Bober, “These immune dysregulation patterns could be at the root of the numerous forms of persistent symptoms we detect in persons who go on to acquire the syndrome now known as extended COVID-19.”

The Cedars-Sinai research team conducted their study by recruiting 177 people who had proven evidence of past infections with SARS-CoV-2 to take part in it. It was determined that the blood samples taken from these patients were comparable to blood samples taken from healthy people prior to the pandemic.

Autoantibodies were found in high concentrations in all the individuals who had been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 infection. It has also been discovered that some of the autoantibodies are present in persons who have disorders in which the immune system targets its own healthy cells, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

According to 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: “We discovered signals of autoantibody activity that are typically associated with chronic inflammation and injury involving specific organ systems and tissues such as the joints, skin, and nervous system.”

The presence of some autoantibodies has been related to autoimmune illnesses, which often afflict women at a higher rate than men. Men, on the other hand, had a higher number of increased autoantibodies in this study than did women.

“On the one hand, this discovery appears to be counterintuitive, considering that autoimmune diseases are typically more prevalent in females,” Fert-Bober explained.

The fact that males are more susceptible to the most severe types of COVID-19, Fert-Bober continued, “on the other hand, is also somewhat predictable given all we know about males being more vulnerable.”

Currently, the research team is looking into expanding the study in order to identify the types of autoantibodies that may be present and remain in persons who have long-term COVID-19 symptoms.

Because this research was conducted in persons who were infected before the development of vaccines, the researchers will also investigate whether autoantibodies are produced similarly in people who have breakthrough infections.

“If we can gain a better understanding of these autoantibody responses, as well as the mechanisms by which SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers and drives these variable responses, we will be one step closer to discovering ways to treat and even prevent these effects from developing in people at risk,” Cheng explained.

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