“Interferons are like a fire alarm and a sprinkler system all in one,” said Rasmussen, who was not involved in the new studies.
Laboratory studies show that interferons are suppressed in some people with COVID-19, possibly by the virus itself.
Interferons are especially important for protecting the body against new viruses, such as the coronavirus, which the body has never encountered, said Zhang, a researcher in the Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases Laboratory at Rockefeller University in St. Giles. .
When infected with the novel coronavirus, “your body should have alarms ringing everywhere,” Zhang said. “If you don’t sound the alarm, you could have viruses all over the place in droves.”
Significantly, the patients did not make autoantibodies in response to the virus. Instead, they appeared to have had it even before the pandemic began, said Paul Bastard, lead author of the antibody study, also a researcher at Rockefeller University.
For reasons researchers don’t understand, autoantibodies never caused a problem until patients were infected with COVID-19, Bastard said. Somehow, the new coronavirus, or the immune response it triggered, seems to have set them in motion.
“Before COVID, their condition was silent,” Bastard said. “Most of them hadn’t gotten sick before.”
Bastard said he now wonders whether autoantibodies against interferon also increase the risk of other viruses, such as the flu. Among the patients in his study, “some of them had contracted the flu in the past, and we are looking to see if the autoantibodies could have had an effect on the flu.”
Scientists have long known that viruses and the immune system compete in a kind of arms race, with viruses evolving in a way that eludes the immune system and even suppresses its response, said Sabra Klein, professor of molecular microbiology and of Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School. of public health.
Antibodies are usually the heroes of the immune system, defending the body against viruses and other threats. But sometimes, in a phenomenon known as autoimmune disease, the immune system seems confused and creates autoantibodies. This occurs in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, when antibodies attack the joints, and type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
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