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Covid infection reprograms immune cells – Says New Study

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Corona infection can be dangerous. Namely when the immune system overreacts. A team of researchers has now found out why this happens in the body. 

The spike protein also has a long-lasting effect on innate immune responses.

When people become infected with Sars-CoV-2, their immune systems may overreact. Severe inflammation of the lungs, kidneys and other organs follow. So far it has not been entirely clear why this is happening.

The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (S-protein), apparently plays a decisive role. Researchers at University Hospital Cologne have analyzed this in great detail in a new study. 

On the one hand, their findings provide important information for possible treatments for the infection. On the other hand, it helps to understand what it takes for a strong immune response from vaccinations.

Sebastian Theobald’s scientists investigated how the spike protein affects the innate immune system and how its activity is also related to the course of severe disease. 

The results were published in the renowned scientific journal “EMBO Molecular Medicine”.

This leads to an excessive immune reaction

When the body of corona-infected people massively releases pro-inflammatory signaling substances, so-called cytokines, the immune system gets out of control. In a chain reaction, this attracts further, activated immune cells into the tissue.

The Cologne researchers have now shown that human defense cells (macrophages) are massively stimulated by the viral spike protein to produce the inflammatory signaling substance interleukin-1β

However, this was only possible if they examined the immune cells of Covid 19 patients in the experiments. 

Human macrophages, i.e. the phagocytes that have not yet had contact with Sars-CoV-2, did not release any interleukin-1β

“This selective immune response of a classic signaling pathway of the innate immune system is very unusual and has not yet been described in this way. There are now many starting points to understand why some people react with an excessive reaction of the immune system,” explains Jan Rybniker, head of the infectious disease research laboratory at University Hospital Cologne and one of the authors of the study. 

The scientists also consider the signal pathway examined here as a possible therapeutic starting point for immunomodulatory therapies for severe Covid-19 infections. 

A scientific basis for this is identified in this work.

Defense cells are reprogrammed for a long time

According to the researchers, one point was particularly interesting: the immune cells could still be activated very strongly by the spike protein several weeks to months after a Sars-CoV-2 infection.

“Since macrophages have a very short lifespan of just a few days, this suggests changes in the DNA of macrophage progenitor cells. We were also able to prove these so-called epigenetic changes by means of complex sequencing experiments,” reports Sebastian Theobald, a postdoctoral researcher from the University Hospital and first author of the study. These profound changes from macrophages to the genetic makeup of the cells could be used to better understand the long-term consequences of Covid 19 disease.

A corona infection can therefore reprogram the immune cells profoundly and for a long time. This in turn influences, among other things, how the vaccinations work against it. 

“Since our work is based on the immune response against the spike protein, we can now better classify and understand the vaccination response against Sars-CoV-2, as almost all vaccinations currently available are based on this protein,” adds Alexander Simonis, co-author of the study. 

Image Credit: Getty

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