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Do Human Endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) contribute to COVID-19 immunopathology?
June 28, 2021, 8:00 AM to 9:15 AM
Live Webinar
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Speaker: Benjamin Charvet, PhD Preclinical Project Manager Geneuro

Abstract: 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. 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 obtained 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.

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