BACKGROUND: The immunopathological pathways enabling post-COVID syndrome (PCS) development are not entirely known. We underwent a longitudinal analysis of patients with COVID-19 who developed PCS aiming to evaluate the autoimmune and immunological status associated with this condition.
METHODS: Thirty-three patients were included for longitudinal clinical and autoantibody analyses of whom 12 patients were assessed for cytokines and lymphocyte populations. Patients were followed during 7-11 months after acute COVID-19. Autoimmune profile and immunological status were evaluated mainly by enzyme-linked-immunosorbent assays and flow cytometry.
RESULTS: Latent autoimmunity and overt autoimmunity persisted over time. A proinflammatory state was observed in patients with PCS characterized by upregulated IFN-α, TNF-α, G-CSF, IL-17A, IL-6, IL-1β, and IL-13, whereas IP-10 was decreased. In addition, PCS was characterized by increased levels of Th9, CD8+ effector T cells, naive B cells, and CD4+ effector memory T cells. Total levels of IgG S1-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies remained elevated over time.
DISCUSSION: The clinical manifestations of PCS are associated with the persistence of a proinflammatory, and effector phenotype induced by SARS-CoV-2 infection. This long-term persistent immune activation may contribute to the development of latent and overt autoimmunity. Results suggest the need to evaluate the role of immunomodulation in the treatment of PCS.