Arkansas researchers find potential cause of long-haul COVID-19

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — We all probably know someone who recovered from COVID, but their symptoms lingered for weeks and even months.

A research team at the University of Arkansas has identified a potential cause of long-lasting symptoms experienced by COVID-19 patients, often referred to as “long-haulers.”

The findings were published in the journal, The Public Library of Science ONE (PLOS ONE).

The UAMS team found an antibody that shows up weeks after initial infection and attacks and disrupts a key regulator of the immune system, according to a release from the university.

This affects people young, old, people who had severe and people who had minor symptoms while sick. So understanding what’s driving this illness would help a lot of people. Researchers at the UAMS believe they may be one step closer to the answer.

“She had just lost her taste and smell. And it was persistent for about a month and a half,” said Alessandra Daniele, Memphis.

Alessandra Daniele’s sister contracted COVID early in the pandemic. She knew something was wrong when she lost her taste and smell and sought medical help when the symptoms persisted.

“She was just confused and she was going to doctors and no one really knew why this was happening,” Daniele said.

Daniele tested positive for COVID last October. But unlike her sister, she did not suffer from what health experts call “Long-Hauler Syndrome.”

Long hauler syndrome is when someone has recovered from COVID-19, but still has symptoms. It can last for weeks or months.

“There’s a lot of people that are suffering from the symptoms of long COVID. First, we have to figure out how it works,” said John Arthur, UAMS.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chief of Pathology Dr. John Arthur and his research team believe they may have uncovered what is causing these long-lasting symptoms. “We found patients who had COVID, but not patients who had not had COVID had the antibody against ACE 2,” said Arthur.

They believe this antibody shows up weeks after initial infection and attacks and disrupts a key regulator of the immune system.

”The immune system is revved up and the revved-up immune system that causes all of these symptoms,” said Arthur.

The research team is not done with their study. They need long haulers for a clinical study.

If this is something you’re interested, you can register here

More from the release:

As many as 30% of COVID-19 patients experience lingering fatigue, brain fog and shortness of breath. The cause of long COVID-19 has eluded scientists, but the UAMS team’s discovery sheds important new light on the mechanisms behind it.

The antibody creates problems for the immune system by attacking the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). The ACE2 enzyme helps regulate the body’s response to the virus by metabolizing a peptide that activates the immune system. The attacking antibody interferes with ACE2′s work, which makes the antibody a prime suspect for the long-lasting illness.

Researchers tested plasma or serum for ACE2 antibodies in 67 patients with known SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infection and 13 with no history of infection. In 81% of blood samples from patients in Arkansas and Oklahoma with a history of COVID-19, the samples had the antibody that attacked the ACE2. In participants with no history of COVID-19, no antibodies were created to attack the ACE2 enzyme.