Natural coronavirus immunity can last for at least six months, if not longer

Natural coronavirus immunity can last for at least six months, if not longer

According to new research, immunity to coronavirus could last a very long time, at least six months. This is because fragments of the virus could push memory cells to evolve to respond more efficiently and thus prevent reinfection

(Photo: Rockefeller University) It has been one of the key questions since the beginning of the pandemic: the cases of reinfection are quite rare, but when exactly does coronavirus immunity last? Today, researchers from Rockefeller University in New York try to answer, according to which patients who recover from Covid-19 are protected from the virus for at least six months, and probably much longer. In fact, according to the study just published in the pages of Nature, even after infection the immune system remembers the virus, continuing to improve the ability of antibodies to block the coronavirus (even its variants) and prevent reinfection.

These most effective antibodies, the researchers explain, are produced by immune cells that continue to evolve, probably due to their continued exposure to fragments of the virus left in the intestinal tissue. Encouraging results, then, which suggest that when a recovered patient encounters the virus again, her response may be faster and more effective. "The type of immune response we observed could potentially provide protection for quite some time, allowing the body to activate a rapid and effective response to the virus after re-exposure," comments immunologist Michel C Nussenzweig, who coordinated the study .

To understand this, the team observed the antibody responses of 87 patients in two moments: one month after infection and then after six months. The analyzes showed that although the antibodies were still detectable over a longer period of time, their plasma levels had significantly decreased, so much so that their ability to neutralize the virus had been reduced by five times. On the contrary, the memory B cells that produce specific antibodies against the coronavirus, have not decreased, but in some cases they have even increased. "The overall number of B cells that produced antibodies that attack the virus's Achilles heel, known as the receptor-binding domain (Rbd), remained the same," says Christian Gaebler, co-author of the study. "This is good news because they are the ones you need when you encounter the virus again."

By focusing on B cells, moreover, the researchers found that they had better capabilities in terms of efficiency even after recovery, being able to better attach themselves to the coronavirus and also recognizing the mutated versions. “We were surprised to see that the memory cells continued to evolve,” explains Nussenzweig. "This often happens in chronic infections, such as with HIV. But we did not expect to see it also in the coronavirus, which we thought would be eliminated from the body after recovery ". As the coronavirus replicates in certain cells in the lungs, upper respiratory tract, and small intestine, researchers speculate that residual viral particles hiding within these tissues could cause memory cells to evolve. >
From subsequent analyzes of the intestinal tissue of 14 patients recovered from Covid-19 three months before the study, in fact, the researchers observed that 7 of them still showed fragments of the genetic material of the coronavirus in the cells lining the intestine. However, the researchers have not yet been able to understand whether these residues of the virus are active and contagious or not and therefore still other investigations, with a larger sample, will be needed to better understand their role in immunity.

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