They and other scientists suspected that they played a crucial role in the potentially fatal cascade of COVID symptoms – especially those related to blood clots in patients with COVID. Coagulation could cause about 1 in 5 deaths from COVID-19, NIH researchers estimate concluded in a separate article published in September.

Now, The UM team may have found clues to find out exactly why.

In the lab, autoantibodies are unexpectedly recognized and then bind to endothelial cells that line blood vessels and release enzymes that help control blood clotting and maintain blood flow throughout the body.

Consider accidentally cutting your finger while slicing vegetables. In this case, clotting is normal and helpful as it prevents you from bleeding.

But in patients with COVID, autoantibodies activated endothelial cells, causing them to become “sticky” and attract other cells to the lining of the wall, causing blood clots.

“They include programs they can use in case of injury, and they become much more sticky,” Knight said of the autoantibodies. “Now the cells of our blood – instead of just flowing past the endothelial cells, as in normal times – will start to stick to this wall, and this is the beginning of a blood clot.”

These clots can block blood vessels, causing strokes, causing long-term organ damage and – especially with COVID – lung problems that impair patients ’ability to breathe.

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