A potentially deadly new COVID-related syndrome has emerged

A rare but deadly autoimmune disorder is on the rise in the north of England, and new research suggests its outbreak may be linked to COVID-19. The disease, known as anti-MDA5-positive dermatomyositis, was seen mainly in Asian populations before the pandemic, but is now increasing among Caucasian residents of Yorkshire.

Triggered by antibodies that attack an enzyme called MDA5 (melanoma differentiation-associated protein 5), the disease is associated with progressive interstitial lung disease, which is characterized by scarring of the lung tissue. Between 2020 and 2022, doctors in Yorkshire recorded an unprecedented 60 cases of MDA5 autoimmunity, resulting in eight deaths.

Analyzing this surge in a new study, researchers report that the sudden increase in cases coincides with major waves of COVID-19 infections during the peak years of the pandemic. This immediately caught their attention because MDA5 is an RNA receptor that plays a key role in recognizing the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Here we report an increase in the rate of anti-MDA5 positivity tests in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic in our region (Yorkshire), which was notable as this entity is relatively rare in the UK,” the study authors write. They say this phenomenon is likely indicative of “a distinct form of MDA5+ disease in the COVID-19 era,” which they term “MDA5-autoimmunity and interstitial pneumonitis concurrent with COVID-19” (MIP-C).

To understand the mechanisms underlying this newly identified symptom, researchers used a data-crunching tool that looks for shared symptoms among members of medical groups. In doing so, they found that patients with MDA5 autoimmunity also had higher levels of an inflammatory cytokine called interleukin-15 (IL-15).

Commenting on the findings in a statement, study author Pradipta Ghosh explained that IL-15 “can push cells to the brink of exhaustion and create an immunological phenotype that is often identified as progressive interstitial lung disease, or fibrosis.” Seen as lungs.”

Overall, only eight of the 60 patients had already tested positive for COVID-19, suggesting that many people may have asymptomatic infections that they were not aware of. This implies that even mild infections with no initial symptoms may be sufficient to trigger MDA5 autoimmunity.

“Given the peak of MDA5 positivity testing after the peak of COVID-19 cases in 2021, and coinciding with the peak of vaccination, these findings indicate immunity against MDA5 upon exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and/or the vaccine.” Suggesting a reaction or autoimmunity,” the researchers conclude.

According to Ghosh, the phenomenon is unlikely to be limited to Yorkshire, and reports of MIP-C are now coming in from around the world.

This study has been published in the eBioMedicine journal.

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