Autoimmunity has been reported in patients with severe COVID-19. We investigated whether antinuclear/extractable-nuclear antibodies (ANAs) were present up to a year after infection, and if they were associated with the development of clinically relevant Post-Acute Sequalae of COVID-19 (PASC) symptoms.
A rapid assessment line immunoassay was used to measure circulating levels of ANA/ENAs in 106 convalescent COVID-19 patients with varying acute phase severities at 3, 6, and 12 months post-recovery. Patient-reported fatigue, cough, and dyspnea were recorded at each timepoint. Multivariable logistic regression model and receiver-operating curves (ROC) were used to test the association of autoantibodies with patient-reported outcomes and pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Compared to age- and sex-matched healthy controls (n=22) and those who had other respiratory infections (n=34), patients with COVID-19 had higher detectable ANAs at 3 months post-recovery (p<0.001). The mean number of ANA autoreactivities per individual decreased from 3 to 12 months (3.99 to 1.55) with persistent positive titers associated with fatigue, dyspnea, and cough severity. Antibodies to U1-snRNP and anti-SS-B/La were both positively associated with persistent symptoms of fatigue (p<0.028, AUC=0.86) and dyspnea (p<0.003, AUC=0.81). Pro-inflammatory cytokines such as tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) and C-reactive protein predicted the elevated ANAs at 12 months. TNFα, D-dimer, and IL-1β had the strongest association with symptoms at 12 months. Regression analysis showed TNFα predicted fatigue (β=4.65, p=0.004) and general symptomaticity (β=2.40, p=0.03) at 12 months.
Persistently positive ANAs at 12 months post-COVID are associated with persisting symptoms and inflammation (TNFα) in a subset of COVID-19 survivors. This finding indicates the need for further investigation into the role of autoimmunity in PASC.