Divergent and self-reactive immune responses in the CNS of COVID-19 patients with neurological symptoms

Cell Rep Med. 2021 May 18;2(5):100288. doi: 10.1016/j.xcrm.2021.100288. Epub 2021 May 3.


Individuals with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) frequently develop neurological symptoms, but the biological underpinnings of these phenomena are unknown. Through single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) and cytokine analyses of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood from individuals with COVID-19 with neurological symptoms, we find compartmentalized, CNS-specific T cell activation and B cell responses. All affected individuals had CSF anti-severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) antibodies whose target epitopes diverged from serum antibodies. In an animal model, we find that intrathecal SARS-CoV-2 antibodies are present only during brain infection and not elicited by pulmonary infection. We produced CSF-derived monoclonal antibodies from an individual with COVID-19 and found that these monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) target antiviral and antineural antigens, including one mAb that reacted to spike protein and neural tissue. CSF immunoglobulin G (IgG) from 5 of 7 patients showed antineural reactivity. This immune survey reveals evidence of a compartmentalized immune response in the CNS of individuals with COVID-19 and suggests a role of autoimmunity in neurologic sequelae of COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; autoimmunity; cerebrospinal fluid; neurological infection.