SARS-CoV-2 infection as a trigger of autoimmune response

Clin Transl Sci. 2020 Dec 11. doi: 10.1111/cts.12953. Online ahead of print.


Currently, few evidences have shown the possible involvement of autoimmunity in patients affected by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In this study, we elucidate whether severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus disease 2 (SARS-CoV-2) stimulates autoantibody production and contributes to autoimmunity activation. We enrolled 40 adult patients (66.8 years mean age) admitted to Alessandria Hospital between March and April 2020. All the patients had a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis and no previously clinical record of autoimmune disease. Forty blood donors were analyzed for the same markers and considered as healthy controls. Our patients had high levels of common inflammatory markers, such as C reactive protein, lactate dehydrogenase, ferritin, and creatinine. Interleukin-6 concentrations were also increased, supporting the major role of this interleukin during COVID-19 infection. Lymphocyte numbers were generally lower compared with healthy individuals. All the patients were also screened for the most common autoantibodies. We found a significant prevalence of antinuclear antibodies, antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies, and ASCA immunoglobulin A antibodies. We observed that patients having a de novo autoimmune response had the worst acute viral disease prognosis and outcome. Our results sustain the hypothesis that COVID-19 infection correlates with the autoimmunity markers. Our study might help clinicians to: (a) better understand the heterogeneity of this pathology and (b) correctly evaluate COVID-19 clinical manifestations. Our data explained why drugs used to treat autoimmune diseases may also be useful for SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, we highly recommend checking patients with COVID-19 for autoimmunity markers, mainly when deciding on whether to treat them with plasma transfer therapy.