Diverse autoantibodies were suggested to contribute to severe outcomes of COVID-19, but their functional implications are largely unclear. ACE2, the SARS-CoV-2 receptor and a key regulator of blood pressure, was described to be one of many targets of autoantibodies in COVID-19. ACE2 in its soluble form (sACE2) is highly elevated in the blood of critically ill patients, raising the question of whether sACE2:spike complexes induce ACE2 reactivity. Screening 247 COVID-19 patients, we observed elevated sACE2 and anti-ACE2 IgG that were poorly correlated. Interestingly, levels of IgGs recognizing ACE2, IFNα2, and CD26 strongly correlated in severe COVID-19, with 15% of sera showing polyreactivity versus 4.1% exhibiting target-directed autoimmunity. Promiscuous autoantibodies failed to impair the activity of ACE2 and IFNα2, while only specific anti-IFNα2 IgG compromised cytokine function. Our study suggests that the detection of autoantibodies in COVID-19 is often attributed to a promiscuous reactivity, potentially misinterpreted as target-specific autoimmunity with functional impact.
Keywords: Autoantibodies; Autoimmunity; Autoreactivity; COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2.
© 2023 The Authors. European Journal of Immunology published by Wiley-VCH GmbH.