The majority of SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies in COVID-19 patients with obesity are autoimmune and not neutralizing

Daniela Frasca, Lisa Reidy, Maria Romero, Alain Diaz, Carolyn Cray, Kristin Kahl, Bonnie B. Blomberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/objectives: Obesity decreases the secretion of SARS-CoV-2-specific IgG antibodies in the blood of COVID-19 patients. How obesity impacts the quality of the antibodies secreted, however, is not understood. Therefore, the objective of this study is to evaluate the presence of neutralizing versus autoimmune antibodies in COVID-19 patients with obesity. Subjects/methods: Thirty serum samples from individuals who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection by RT-PCR were collected from inpatient and outpatient settings. Of these, 15 were lean (BMI < 25) and 15 were obese (BMI ≥ 30). Control serum samples were from 30 uninfected individuals, age-, gender-, and BMI-matched, recruited before the current pandemic. Neutralizing and autoimmune antibodies were measured by ELISA. IgG autoimmune antibodies were specific for malondialdehyde (MDA), a marker of oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation, and for adipocyte-derived protein antigens (AD), markers of virus-induced cell death in the obese adipose tissue. Results: SARS-CoV-2 infection induces neutralizing antibodies in all lean but only in few obese COVID-19 patients. SARS-CoV-2 infection also induces anti-MDA and anti-AD autoimmune antibodies more in lean than in obese patients as compared to uninfected controls. Serum levels of these autoimmune antibodies, however, are always higher in obese versus lean COVID-19 patients. Moreover, because the autoimmune antibodies found in serum samples of COVID-19 patients have been correlated with serum levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a general marker of inflammation, we also evaluated the association of anti-MDA and anti-AD antibodies with serum CRP and found a positive association between CRP and autoimmune antibodies. Conclusions: Our results highlight the importance of evaluating the quality of the antibody response in COVID-19 patients with obesity, particularly the presence of autoimmune antibodies, and identify biomarkers of self-tolerance breakdown. This is crucial to protect this vulnerable population at higher risk of responding poorly to infection with SARS-CoV-2 than lean controls.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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