COVID-19 virus leaves some with 'autoantibodies' that attack healthy tissues, study suggests

Months after recovering, the coronavirus may leave some people with "autoantibodies,"  or antibodies that attack healthy organs and tissues, according to findings published Dec. 30 in the Journal of Translational Medicine.

The study — conducted by researchers from Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai before COVID-19 vaccines were available — involved 177 healthcare workers with a previously confirmed COVID-19 infection. Researchers compared blood samples from this cohort to those taken from a healthy control group of 53 people before the pandemic. 

All of the participants with a history of COVID-19, including those who had mild symptoms or no symptoms, had elevated levels of self-attacking autoantibodies up to six months after they had fully recovered, the findings showed.

"We found signals of autoantibody activity that are usually linked to chronic inflammation and injury involving specific organ systems and tissues such as the joints, skin and nervous system," said Susan Cheng, MD, study co-author and director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging at Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute. 

Overall, researchers observed a higher number of elevated autoantibodies in men compared to women. The team hopes to expand the study to determine whether certain types of autoantibodies are persistent in people with long COVID-19 and whether autoantibodies are generated at similar levels among people with breakthrough infections 


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