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Webinar: Do Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) Contribute to COVID-19 Immunopathology?

Webinar Summary

Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) have been described as genetic elements present in the human genome arising from the integration and ancestral fixing of proviruses in our genome. HERVs today represent 8% of the human genome (against 3% for the coding genome) but the vast majority of them are transcriptionally inactive. However, under certain conditions, some of these sequences can be awakened and play a pathogenic role. Their activation has increasingly been found to be associated with various diseases including multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, cancers,… which are all underlying diseases in patients developing severe forms of COVID-19. Several studies confirmed that the immunopathogenic envelope protein of HERV family W (HERV-W ENV) is involved in inflammatory and neurological diseases (reviewed in 2). Moreover, HERV-W was shown to be directly activated by exogenous viruses (including SARS-CoV-2) with various outcomes depending on triggering viruses and susceptible cells or tissues.

We demonstrate for the first time an elevated expression of the HERV-W ENV protein in the blood cells and sera of COVID-19 (detection on Simple Western™ capillary based immunoassay) patients compared to that of healthy donors and its correlation with markers of inflammation including cytokines expression (performed on Ella™ with the COVID-19 Simple Plex cytokine storm panel), T cell differentiation and exhaustion, and the IgGs anti-SARS-CoV-2 serology (performed on Simple Western using the SARS-CoV-2 Multi-Antigen Serology Module). Based on the potential early reactivation by SARS-CoV-2, we propose HERV-W ENV protein as a contributing factor to the immunopathology of COVID-19.

In addition, lymphopenia observed in COVID-19 patients causes an absence of IgG production in a significant number of patients inducing false negatives during SARS-CoV-2 serology. In order to limit these false negatives, and obtain additional results on COVID-19 physiopathology, we are currently developing a detection system for anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgMs for use on Simple Western which could complement the SARS-CoV-2 Multi-Antigen Serology Module which is based solely on the detection of IgGs.