Rationale: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome with fatal outcomes. Evidence suggests that dysregulated immune responses, including autoimmunity, are key pathogenic factors. Objectives: To assess whether IgA autoantibodies target lung-specific proteins and contribute to disease severity. Methods: We collected 147 blood, 9 lung tissue, and 36 BAL fluid samples from three tertiary hospitals in Switzerland and one in Germany. Severe COVID-19 was defined by the need to administer oxygen. We investigated the presence of IgA autoantibodies and their effects on pulmonary surfactant in COVID-19 using the following methods: immunofluorescence on tissue samples, immunoprecipitations followed by mass spectrometry on BAL fluid samples, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays on blood samples, and surface tension measurements with medical surfactant. Measurements and Main Results: IgA autoantibodies targeting pulmonary surfactant proteins B and C were elevated in patients with severe COVID-19 but not in patients with influenza or bacterial pneumonia. Notably, pulmonary surfactant failed to reduce surface tension after incubation with either plasma or purified IgA from patients with severe COVID-19. Conclusions: Our data suggest that patients with severe COVID-19 harbor IgA autoantibodies against pulmonary surfactant proteins B and C and that these autoantibodies block the function of lung surfactant, potentially contributing to alveolar collapse and poor oxygenation.
Keywords: COVID-19; autoimmunity; immunoglobulin A; pulmonary surfactant; pulmonary-associated surfactant protein.