In a new study from the University of Arkansas, researchers found a potential cause of long-lasting symptoms experienced by COVID-19 patients, often referred to as long-haulers.
They found an antibody that shows up weeks after initial infection and attacks and disrupts a key regulator of the immune system.
As many as 30% of COVID-19 patients experience lingering fatigue, brain fog and shortness of breath.
The cause of long COVID-19 has eluded scientists, but the team’s discovery sheds important new light on the molecular-level mechanisms behind it.
The antibody creates problems for the immune system by attacking the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). The ACE2 enzyme helps regulate the body’s response to the virus by metabolizing a peptide that activates the immune system.
The attacking antibody interferes with ACE2’s work, which makes the antibody a prime suspect for the long-lasting illness.
In the study, the team tested plasma or serum for ACE2 antibodies in 67 patients with known SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infection and 13 with no history of infection.
In 81% of blood samples from patients in Arkansas and Oklahoma with a history of COVID-19, the samples had the antibody that attacked the ACE2.
In participants with no history of COVID-19, no antibodies were created to attack the ACE2 enzyme.
The team says if they show that the whole hypothesis is right, that this interference of ACE2 really does cause long COVID, then it opens up many potential treatments.
If their next steps confirm that this antibody is the cause of long COVID symptoms, there are medications that should work to treat them.
If you care about long COVID, please read studies about long COVID more likely in these people and findings of long COVID: symptoms experienced during infection may predict lasting illness.
For more information about long COVID and your health, please see recent studies about many people with mild COVID-19 still have long-term symptoms and results showing that signs of ‘long COVID’ can be found in eyes.
The study is published in PLOS ONE. One author of the study is John Arthur, M.D., Ph.D.
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