Autoimmune disorders cause the body’s own defense system to attack normal, healthy cells. These can make people more susceptible to serious and fatal infections. But they may not be all bad news–new research suggests that one autoimmune disease might actually provide protection against COVID-19.
In a paper published November 3 in the journal PLOS Genetics, researchers from King’s College London discovered that a gene linked to lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), might protect against severe COVID-19 infections. The gene, dubbed TYK2, increases your risk of developing lupus. However, the study’s authors also found that it protects against viral infections like COVID-19.
Interferons are proteins found in the immune system of the body that signal other cells to attack viruses. “TYK2 is involved in interferon production, a process that is important in response to viral infection and known to be dysregulated in SLE patients,” the study’s authors told The Daily Beast in a joint statement.
Changes or mutations to the TYK2 gene can increase interferon production, resulting in increased protections against viral infections. The study authors explain that a lower level of interferons can make it easier for viruses to infect people, and too many can cause an active immune system, leading to diseases such as SLE. “[Having] elevated levels of interferon increases the risk of autoimmune disease as it can stimulate the immune system to attack healthy cells.”
Part of the reason this might happen is due to natural selection. Over time, the human body got stronger and better able to fight off viruses. Sometimes, however, this can lead to a mutation in which our bodies become too good at fighting off viruses–including ourselves.
The researchers caution that this doesn’t necessarily mean that those with lupus are necessarily better at fighting COVID-19 than those without lupus. According to the researchers, there are many causes of Lupus, ranging from genetic to environmental. It wouldn’t be right to use a single gene to predict either SLE or severe infections to COVID-19.
However, they state that both the coronavirus and lupus have many genes. This might suggest that that there’s a give and take with the human genome. While it can help you against viruses, it might result in factors for autoimmune disease.
The study’s authors hope that future studies building off of this one will take a look at a broader and more diverse sample of people, as this one contained primarily people of European descent. The researchers also plan to examine it in comparison with other studies that focus on larger populations, as lupus can also be affected by environment factors.
Overall, this research helps provide a better understanding of how exactly the immune system helps protect against pathogens like the coronavirus–though it might cause a whole host of other issues as well.
The article A Gene that Leads to Lupus May Also Help You Avoid COVID was first published on The Daily Beast ..