Since the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians and scientists worldwide have been working to understand how exactly the virus makes us sick.
In a study from the University of Chicago, scientists found that the immune system may unintentionally contribute to the disease’s strangest symptoms.
The findings showed that some people with severe COVID-19 can develop autoantibodies—antibodies directed against a person’s own proteins—that disturb a critical component involved in blood pressure regulation.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, infects the body by way of biomolecular hijacking.
The virus is covered with spike-shaped proteins that enter cells by attaching to the receptor ACE2, found on cells lining the mouth, nose, and lungs.
ACE2 normally functions as a critical regulator of blood pressure by interacting with the peptide angiotensin II (AngII).
Researchers discovered the virus’s entry mechanism early in the pandemic.
In the study, the team analyzed plasma samples from 115 patients hospitalized for severe COVID-19. Of these, they found that 63% had autoantibodies targeting AngII—exactly what Swartz had predicted.
Moreover, the antibody’s presence coincided with lower blood oxygenation, increased blood pressure dysregulation, and higher overall disease severity.
While not everyone with the autoantibodies experienced severe symptoms, and not everyone with severe symptoms had autoantibodies, the correlation with illness severity—particularly that related to blood pressure regulation—was significant.
The team points out that antibodies against AngII are transient, but their existence shows that the body can produce autoimmune responses to COVID-19.
Understanding the full breadth of that response may offer new clues to fighting the disease.
Further study may examine whether antibodies against AngII emerge after most COVID symptoms subside and whether any recurrence coincides with symptoms of long COVID-19.
If you care about COVID, please read studies about the cause of inflammation and blood clotting in severe COVID-19, and this plant extract may help treat COVID-19.
For more information about COVID, please see recent studies that people over 50 years old may get shingles after COVID-19, and results showing this existing drug can save damaged lungs in COVID-19.
The study was conducted by Melody Swartz et al and published in Science Advances.
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