“COVID infection can alter blood cells”: Research

RNS: Coronavirus infection can alter the biomechanical properties of red and white blood cells, in some cases for months which can be the reason why Covid-survivors suffer for months even after they clear their life-threatening infection. Their suffering can be varied including shortness of breath, fatigue and headaches, reveals a new research.

The study published in the Biophysical Journal, the researchers also reveals that the oxygen supply, which is one of the main tasks of the erythrocytes may be impaired in infected persons.

The biophysicists from Erlangen examined more than four million blood cells from 17 patients acutely ill with Covid-19, from 14 people who had recovered and 24 healthy people as a comparison group.

Researchers showed the size and rigidity of red and white blood cells may be changed dramatically by using cytometry for deformability in real time, sometimes over the course of months. These data may help explain why certain individuals continue to complain about signs long after they have been infected (long Covid).

This post Covid-19 syndrome, also called long Covid, is still not properly understood. What is clear is that — during the course of the disease — often blood circulation is impaired, dangerous vascular occlusions can occur and oxygen transport is limited. These are all phenomena in which the blood cells and their physical properties play a key role.

To investigate this aspect, a team of scientists from the Max-Planck-Zentrum für Physik und Medizin, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPL), the Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg and the German Centre for Immunotherapy measured the mechanical states of red and white blood cells.

“We were able to detect clear and long-lasting changes in the cells — both during an acute infection and even afterwards,” said Professor Guck, Managing Director MPL.

Lymphocytes (one type of white blood cell responsible for the acquired immune defense) were in turn significantly softer in Covid-19 patients, which typically indicate a strong immune reaction. The researchers made similar observations for neutrophil granulocytes, another group of white blood cells involved in the innate immune response.

These cells even remained drastically altered seven months after the acute infection. “We suspect that the cytoskeleton of immune cells, which is largely responsible for cell function, has changed,” said Markéta Kubánková, the author of the research article.

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