Both viral effect and immune-mediated mechanism are involved in the pathogenesis of severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) infection. In this study, we showed that in SARS patient sera there were autoantibodies (autoAbs) that reacted with A549 cells, the type-2 pneumocytes, and that these autoAbs were mainly IgG. The autoAbs were detectable 20 days after fever onset. Tests of non-SARS-pneumonia patients did not show the same autoAb production as in SARS patients. After sera IgG bound to A549 cells, cytotoxicity was induced. Cell cytotoxicity and the anti-epithelial cell IgG level were positively correlated. Preabsorption and binding assays indicated the existence of cross-reactive epitopes on SARS-CoV spike protein domain 2 (S2). Furthermore, treatment of A549 cells with anti-S2 Abs and IFN-γ resulted in an increase in the adherence of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells to these epithelial cells. Taken together, we have demonstrated that the anti-S2 Abs in SARS patient sera cause cytotoxic injury as well as enhance immune cell adhesion to epithelial cells. The onset of autoimmune responses in SARS-CoV infection may be implicated in SARS pathogenesis.
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