Some Covid Survivors Have Antibodies That Attack the Body, not Virus

Some survivors of Covid-19 carry worrying indicators that their immune system has turned on the physique, harking back to probably debilitating ailments like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, a brand new examine has discovered.

At some level, the physique’s protection system in these sufferers shifted into attacking itself, relatively than the virus, the examine suggests. The sufferers are producing molecules known as “autoantibodies” that concentrate on genetic materials from human cells, as an alternative of from the virus.

This misguided immune response might exacerbate extreme Covid-19. It may additionally clarify why so-called “long haulers” have lingering issues months after their preliminary sickness has resolved and the virus is gone from their our bodies.

The findings carry vital implications for remedy: Using current assessments that may detect autoantibodies, docs might determine sufferers who may profit from remedies used for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. There isn’t any remedy for these ailments, however some remedies lower the frequency and severity of flare-ups.

Viral infections cause infected human cells to die. Sometimes the cells die a quiet death — but sometimes, and especially in the throes of severe infection, they can blow up, strewing their innards. When that happens, DNA, normally cloistered in coiled bundles inside the nucleus, is suddenly scattered and visible.

“It’s not just that these patients have an autoimmune-like immune response,” he said. “It’s that those immune responses are coupled with actual true testable clinical auto-reactivities.”

Some of the autoantibodies the researchers identified are associated with blood flow problems, noted Ann Marshak-Rothstein, an immunologist and lupus expert at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester.

“It’s very possible that some of the coagulation issues that you see in Covid-19 patients are being driven by these kinds of immune complexes,” she said.

If the autoantibodies do turn out to be long-lasting, she said, they may result in persistent, even lifelong, problems for Covid-19 survivors.

“You never really cure lupus — they have flares, and they get better and they have flares again,” she said. “And that may have something to do with autoantibody memory.”

Dr. Marshak-Rothstein, Dr. Iwasaki and dozens of other teams are closely studying the immune response to the coronavirus. Given the ease of testing for autoantibodies, it may soon become clear whether the antibodies were identified only because the researchers went looking for them, or whether they represent a more permanent alteration of the immune system.

“It’s not clear to me what it all means at this point,” Dr. Pepper said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time to understand if this is something that’s going to lead to downstream pathology.”

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