According to a new study by Cedars-Sinai researchers, infection with the COVID-19-causing coronavirus can induce an immune response that extends beyond the initial infection and recovery stage, known as autoantibodies, regardless of whether the infection is symptomatic or asymptomatic.
When a human body is infected with a virus or some kind of pathogen, the bodies release antibodies that prevent the infection from breaching into the cells. However, people produce autoantibodies that can attack the body’s own organs and tissues over a certain period of time.
Researchers found that people who were previously infected by the novel coronavirus possess a variety of autoantibodies that stay in the body even after six months of being fully recovered.
Earlier studies had indicated that severe COVID-19 cases could stress the immune system to produce autoantibodies, however, the novel study highlights that autoantibodies were also found in mild symptomatic or even asymptomatic cases.
For the study, researchers recruited 177 individuals with prior COVID-19 infection. They compared blood samples from these individuals with samples taken from healthy individuals before the pandemic.
All those who were infected with COVID-19 showed elevated levels of antibodies. These were also found in individuals with diseases where the immune system was found to attack its own healthy cells — diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Justyna Fert-Bober, PhD, a research scientist in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute and co-senior author of the study explains, “These findings help to explain what makes COVID-19 an especially unique disease. These patterns of immune dysregulation could be underlying the different types of persistent symptoms we see in people who go on to develop the condition now referred to as long COVID-19.”
Researchers say that some of the antibodies were linked to autoimmune diseases common with women rather than men. The study however revealed that men had a higher number of elevated autoantibodies than women.
He added, “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.”