Why are some people more severely affected by infections, including Covid? It’s a question that baffled scientists, but now they think they know at least part of the answer: autoantibodies.
They could help explain not only our vulnerability to infections, but also to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, aging and even long-term Covid.
“Proteins attacking us from within” sounds more like a description for a new science fiction movie than a very real threat to humanity. But autoantibodies — also known as “rogue” antibodies — are just that.
They are immune cells that turn against us, instead of defending our bodies against infection, they attack our healthy tissues and vital organs.
This process is responsible for a long list of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
In any case, the immune system fails, taking a part of the body as foreign and releasing autoantibodies to ‘go on the attack’ – in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, this results in joint inflammation.
Why are some people more severely affected by infections, including Covid? It’s a question that baffled scientists, but now they think they know at least part of the answer: autoantibodies. A stock photo is used above [File photo]
People with healthy immune systems also produce autoantibodies. Until about 20 years ago, they were thought to simply eliminate them, but scientists have since found that autoantibodies hang around in low numbers in some people.
But as we age, their numbers increase (they are thought to play a role in the aging process).
Today, immunologists are particularly interested in the role autoantibodies can play in Covid-19 and long-term Covid.
As part of an international project, Dr. Jean-Laurent Casanova, an expert in human genetics and infectious diseases, and his team at Rockefeller University in the US examined the factors that increase the risk of severe Covid-19.
They found that patients hospitalized with it have much higher levels of autoantibodies than unaffected patients, and estimate that autoantibodies may be responsible for about a fifth of all Covid-19 deaths.
They found that autoantibodies made the infection worse by blocking the activity of molecules that help fight viral infections.
They also believe that low levels of autoantibodies may help explain why some people have no — or mild — symptoms of Covid.
Other recent studies have identified a range of autoantibodies in the blood of patients with severe Covid-19 that cause damage in various ways, for example by attacking proteins that help control blood clotting.
This process is responsible for a long list of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. In any case, the immune system fails, sees some part of the body as foreign and releases autoantibodies to ‘go on the attack’ – in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, this results in joint inflammation
And since autoantibodies can be detected in blood tests, screening can help identify people with high levels who therefore may need preventive treatment — or pinpoint the infected people who need early aggressive treatment.
Professor Adrian Liston, a senior group leader at the Babraham Institute in the UK, is leading a work program to understand the changes occurring in the immune system of patients with Covid-19.
He says that while it’s too early to say whether autoantibodies play a role in acute illness or long-term Covid, their presence requires attention.
“It’s certainly a very plausible route because we have evidence that autoantibodies can persist for years or decades, unlike the virus, so it provides a good explanation as to why Covid symptoms persist long after the virus is gone,” he says. .
But another possible explanation is that the virus could “initiate an inflammatory circuit, where inflammation causes inflammation, which causes even more inflammation even after the virus is gone — and we just don’t have enough research to say for sure.”
But it is hoped that such research will pave the way for innovations in diagnostics and treatments. Professor Liston predicts that within the next six months there will be an autoantibody-based diagnostic tool for long-term Covid and possibly an autoantibody-based treatment for long-term Covid beyond.
While Covid has undoubtedly sparked more interest in autoantibodies, they were already the subject of intense research prior to the pandemic, in part because of concerns about the worrying rise in autoimmune diseases.
There are four million people in the UK who are known to live with at least one autoimmune disease, but according to Dr Louisa James, an associate professor of immunology at Queen Mary University of London, the prevalence is set to rise, in part because there are ” probably there are more syndromes and disorders in which our immune system plays a role that was previously unrecognized’.
For example, a recent study found that fibromyalgia, which causes widespread pain, may be an autoimmune disease caused by antibodies that affect sensitivity to pain, she says.
Paul Morgan, professor of immunology at Cardiff University, is excited about what the future of autoantibody research could hold and says applying knowledge from the study of autoimmune diseases could help drive new treatments for Covid-19 and long-term Covid to establish.
If autoantibodies are indeed responsible for many of the symptoms of long-term Covid, then you could use the kind of approaches developed for autoimmune diseases — drugs that lower levels of harmful antibodies — to treat long-term Covid.
“That’s why it’s important, it could give us a way to actually treat the disease — by targeting autoantibodies.”
Source: | This article is originally from Dailymail.co.uk
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