The presence of special immune system defense molecules, known as autoimmune antibodies, has been strongly linked to people faring poorly when hospitalized with COVID-19. A new study by scientists at NYU Grossman School of Medicine examined the autoimmune antibodies in the blood of over 33% of adults admitted to the hospital and confirmed to have COVID-19.
The study found that a subset of the autoimmune antibodies that bind to DNA or to a specific type of fat molecule, phosphatidylserine, were twice as abundant during the initial phase of an infection in people whose symptoms worsened quickly than in those whose health did not worsen. Patients with these elevated levels of autoimmune antibodies were five to seven times more likely to develop severe disease than those whose antibodies levels were stable.
People hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19 required mechanical ventilators and intensive care to help them breathe. The people with lower levels of the autoantibodies could breathe on their own and recovered.
Published in the journal Life Science Alliance on September 9, 2021, the researchers’ work is based on the nature of antibodies – immune proteins that target invading viruses and bacteria. Autoimmune antibodies attack the infected person’s own cells and molecules. This includes genetic material and lipids, or DNA, which can enter the bloodstream as cells while cells are being killed by a disease like COVID-19.
“Our study results show that initial blood levels of anti-DNA or anti-phosphatidylserine antibodies were directly linked to the severity of illness in those with COVID-19,” says study co-lead investigator Claudia Gomes, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at NYU Langone Health.
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