Research ArticleCORONAVIRUS

Prothrombotic autoantibodies in serum from patients hospitalized with COVID-19

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Science Translational Medicine  18 Nov 2020:
Vol. 12, Issue 570, eabd3876
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abd3876

Casting an autoantibody NET in COVID-19

Patients with severe COVID-19 are at high risk for occlusion of blood vessels of all sizes. This prothrombotic phenotype is reminiscent of patients with lupus and antiphospholipid syndrome, who have long-lived circulating antiphospholipid autoantibodies. In new work, Zuo et al. measured eight types of antiphospholipid antibodies in serum from patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and found at least one antibody in half of patients. Antibody levels were associated with neutrophil and coagulation pathway activation. Purified antibodies from some patients activated neutrophils in vitro and potentiated thrombosis when injected into mice. Together, these findings suggest that autoantibodies are a potential therapeutic target in severe COVID-19.


Patients with COVID-19 are at high risk for thrombotic arterial and venous occlusions. Lung histopathology often reveals fibrin-based blockages in the small blood vessels of patients who succumb to the disease. Antiphospholipid syndrome is an acquired and potentially life-threatening thrombophilia in which patients develop pathogenic autoantibodies targeting phospholipids and phospholipid-binding proteins (aPL antibodies). Case series have recently detected aPL antibodies in patients with COVID-19. Here, we measured eight types of aPL antibodies in serum samples from 172 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. These aPL antibodies included anticardiolipin IgG, IgM, and IgA; anti–β2 glycoprotein I IgG, IgM, and IgA; and anti-phosphatidylserine/prothrombin (aPS/PT) IgG and IgM. We detected aPS/PT IgG in 24% of serum samples, anticardiolipin IgM in 23% of samples, and aPS/PT IgM in 18% of samples. Antiphospholipid autoantibodies were present in 52% of serum samples using the manufacturer’s threshold and in 30% using a more stringent cutoff (≥40 ELISA-specific units). Higher titers of aPL antibodies were associated with neutrophil hyperactivity, including the release of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), higher platelet counts, more severe respiratory disease, and lower clinical estimated glomerular filtration rate. Similar to IgG from patients with antiphospholipid syndrome, IgG fractions isolated from patients with COVID-19 promoted NET release from neutrophils isolated from healthy individuals. Furthermore, injection of IgG purified from COVID-19 patient serum into mice accelerated venous thrombosis in two mouse models. These findings suggest that half of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 become at least transiently positive for aPL antibodies and that these autoantibodies are potentially pathogenic.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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