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Newly-discovered ‘abzymes’ cause long COVID symptoms

Researchers have uncovered a potential explanation for some of the most perplexing mysteries surrounding COVID-19 and long COVID. The discovery of “abzymes” could pave the way for new treatments targeting the acute effects of COVID-19, long COVID, and possibly other viruses.

The study was led by Dr. Steven L. Zeichner and his colleagues from the University of Virginia Health. They discovered that COVID-19 may prompt some individuals to produce antibodies that mimic enzymes, which are naturally used by the body to regulate crucial functions such as blood pressure, blood clotting, and inflammation.

These enzyme-like antibodies, known as “abzymes,” may be responsible for the diverse and sometimes mysterious symptoms experienced by COVID-19 and long COVID patients.

Role of abzymes in COVID-19 complications

Dr. Zeichner, a pediatric infectious disease expert at UVA Children’s, highlighted the significance of this discovery.

“Some patients with COVID-19 have serious symptoms and we have trouble understanding their cause. We also have a poor understanding of the causes of long COVID,” Zeichner explained.

“If COVID-19 patients are making abzymes, it is possible that these rogue abzymes could harm many different aspects of physiology.”

The researchers propose that targeting these abzymes could be the most effective way to treat the complications of COVID-19 at their source, rather than merely addressing the downstream symptoms. This novel approach could potentially revolutionize the management of COVID-19 and long COVID.

Connection between SARS-CoV-2 and ACE2

The study delves into the interaction between SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and the Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2) on the surface of cells.

ACE2 plays a crucial role in regulating blood pressure by converting angiotensin II into angiotensin 1-7, which have opposing effects on blood vessels.

Dr. Zeichner’s team hypothesized that some patients might produce antibodies against the Spike protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 that resemble ACE2 and possess similar enzymatic activity.

Their findings confirmed this hypothesis, suggesting that these abzymes could be interfering with the body’s normal regulatory processes.

Implications for long COVID and rare vaccine side effects

Recent studies have reported that some patients with long COVID experience issues with their coagulation and complement systems. Both of these are controlled by enzymes that cut other proteins to activate them.

If long COVID patients produce abzymes that activate proteins involved in coagulation and inflammation, it could explain the persistence of long COVID symptoms even after the initial infection has been cleared. Additionally, this discovery may shed light on the rare side effects associated with COVID-19 vaccination.

Future of abzyme research

While the understanding of abzymes in COVID-19 is still in its early stages, Dr. Zeichner notes that enzymatic antibodies have previously been detected in certain cases of HIV.

This finding indicates that other viruses may cause similar effects. He anticipates that UVA’s findings will reignite interest in abzyme research within the medical community.

“We now need to study pure versions of antibodies with enzymatic activity to see how abzymes may work in more detail, and we need to study patients who have had COVID-19 who did and did not develop long COVID,” Dr. Zeichner said.

“There is much more work to do, but I think we have made a good start in developing a new understanding of this challenging disease that has caused so much distress and death around the world,” he concluded

As researchers continue to unravel the complexities of COVID-19 and long COVID, this intriguing discovery offers hope for the development of targeted therapies that address the underlying causes of these conditions.

Dr. Zeichner, who is also developing a universal coronavirus vaccine, emphasizes the importance of understanding the disease’s underlying causes as the first step in developing effective new therapies.

More about long COVID and abzymes

As discussed above, long COVID refers to a range of symptoms that continue for weeks or months after the acute phase of the SARS-CoV-2 infection has subsided.

Unlike the initial infection, which tends to resolve within a few weeks, Long COVID persists, impacting patients’ quality of life significantly. The condition is also known as Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC).

Identifying symptoms of long COVID

The symptoms of Long COVID are diverse and can affect any system in the body. Commonly reported symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive impairments often referred to as “brain fog,” heart palpitations, chest pain, joint or muscle pain, and changes in taste or smell. Patients may experience symptoms that fluctuate or relapse over time.

Long COVID can affect anyone who has had COVID-19, regardless of the severity of their initial infection. While it’s more common in adults, children can also suffer from Long COVID.

Factors that may increase the risk of developing Long COVID include having a severe initial infection, the presence of underlying health conditions, and being female, though research is ongoing to fully understand the risk factors.

Impact, diagnosis and treatment

The impact of Long COVID on individuals and communities is profound. Many sufferers find themselves unable to return to work or participate in daily activities due to their symptoms.

The condition also places a strain on healthcare systems, with patients seeking treatment for a wide range of symptoms and requiring long-term support.

Diagnosing Long COVID can be challenging, as there is no single test for the condition. Instead, healthcare providers must rely on patient history and a process of elimination to rule out other causes of the symptoms.

Treatment is similarly complex and is often focused on managing symptoms, as there is currently no cure. Rehabilitation programs, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication to manage specific symptoms are common approaches.

Ongoing research and the future of abzymes

Researchers around the world are working to understand more about Long COVID, including its causes, risk factors, and effective treatments. Studies are exploring the role of abzymes, the immune system, potential genetic predispositions, and the impact of vaccination on Long COVID.

In summary, long COVID presents a significant challenge to patients, healthcare providers, and researchers alike. As we continue to live with COVID-19, understanding and managing Long COVID will be critical to helping affected individuals recover and minimizing its impact on society.

Encouragingly, ongoing research and increased awareness are paving the way for better diagnosis, treatment, and hopefully, prevention strategies in the future.

The full study was published in the journal mBio.


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