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LIINC Study Finds Immune Abnormalities in Long COVID Patients

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, LIINC—a highly active group of researchers in California—has been determined to learn more about the long-term health impacts of long COVID in affected patients. In their recent study, the group discovered an ongoing immune response in the bodies of long COVID patients.

The Role of T-Cells in ME/CFS & Long COVID Patients

T-cells, known as the “big guns” of the immune system, play a crucial role by tracking down and destroying pathogens within the body, including viral infections like long COVID. Multiple studies are underway to better understand how T-cells function in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)—a condition similar to long COVID.

Recently, links between long COVID and ME/CFS have fueled more research on long COVID and postviral conditions in general (and shed some overdue light on patients who have silently suffered from such chronic conditions long before the coronavirus pandemic). “With three large NIH-funded T-cell studies [...] underway, T-cells are potentially a big deal in ME/CFS,” says Cort Johnson, founder and director of Health Rising.

Experts say T-cells will play a major role in furthering our understanding of long COVID and expanding our understanding of its lasting health effects on our brains and bodies.

2023 Study Examines Autoimmunity in Long COVID Patients

The stated purpose of the new LIINC study was “to identify clues to the immunologic processes that might drive long COVID”—a goal that was ultimately achieved. The researchers found:

  • An ongoing immune response in long COVID patients. The study revealed “profound changes” in “T-helper” cells (CD4+).
  • Reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Although the ongoing immune response was observed, the data did not show elevated T-cell responses to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This begs the question: Why the ongoing immune response? Researchers believe the T-cell response is directed against another pathogen, such as EBV or herpesvirus.
  • Viral reservoirs. A viral reservoir is a site or population of cells that allows a virus to persist and replicate over time, even in the absence of active disease or symptoms. The study revealed exhausted coronavirus-specific T-cells, which are thought to be the “driving force” in what causes chronic fatigue in ME/CFS patients.
  • A massive immune disconnect. In long COVID patients, researchers found a major disconnect between B-cell and T-cell (humoral and cellular immune) responses—two systems designed to collaborate to fight the coronavirus. Interestingly, these systems were coordinated in patients previously infected with COVID-19 without developing long COVID.

Long COVID & Immune Dysregulation

Findings in the new LIINC study are consistent with past studies, suggesting that CD8 T-cell exhaustion plays a key role in ME/CFS and long COVID.

“This suggests that an aberrant response to an immunological trigger, like infection, results in a permanently dysregulated immune system,” Cort Johnson explains, a phenomenon similarly observed in patients who developed ME/CFS after contracting the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

Thanks to ongoing research by LIINC and other groups within medical and scientific communities, experts believe that the following factors could be responsible for immune dysregulation in long COVID patients:

  • Viral reservoir
  • Reactivation of other viruses
  • Autoimmune process

While there is still much to learn about the implications and long-term impacts of long COVID, diligent research is underway to provide us with more answers and more effective solutions as the world continues to heal and recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

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