Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Cedars-Sinai published a study using computational modeling that revealed the underlying mechanism of how COVID-19 can trigger the immune system into a dangerous overdrive response.
There is a part of the spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus that acts as a “super antigen,” according to researchers which affects the immune system and causes life-threatening bacterial infections in some individuals.
It is the same mechanism responsible for toxic shock syndrome, said the scientists, and is the possible reason some children develop Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C. According to the Houston Chronicle, symptoms of MIS-C may include fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, bloodshot eyes, fatigue, and neck pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued emergency warning signs including trouble breathing, severe stomach, and bluish lips.
The current study uncovered the pathway to this inflammatory response. What happens is the super antigen found on the virus causes the T cells that normally help the body fight off infection to produce massive amount inflammatory cytokines resulting in a cytokine storm.
The American researchers compared notes with German scientists and found similarities in their experience. People who suffered severe symptoms in COVID-19 had a runaway response of T cells compared to the normal response in people with milder symptoms. These findings might pave the pathway for effective treatments, such as intravenous immunoglobulin and steroids, for children with MIS-C and adults with hyperinflammation, said the researchers.
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