Authors: Nunez-Castilla J, Stebliankin V, Baral P, Balbin CA, Sobhan M, Cickovski T et al.

PMID: 35891400 PMCID: PMC9318917 DOI: 10.3390/v14071415


Molecular mimicry between viral antigens and host proteins can produce cross-reacting antibodies leading to autoimmunity. The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19, a disease curiously resulting in varied symptoms and outcomes, ranging from asymptomatic to fatal. Autoimmunity due to cross-reacting antibodies resulting from molecular mimicry between viral antigens and host proteins may provide an explanation. Thus, we computationally investigated molecular mimicry between SARS-CoV-2 Spike and known epitopes. We discovered molecular mimicry hotspots in Spike and highlight two examples with tentative high autoimmune potential and implications for understanding COVID-19 complications. We show that a TQLPP motif in Spike and thrombopoietin shares similar antibody binding properties. Antibodies cross-reacting with thrombopoietin may induce thrombocytopenia, a condition observed in COVID-19 patients. Another motif, ELDKY, is shared in multiple human proteins, such as PRKG1 involved in platelet activation and calcium regulation, and tropomyosin, which is linked to cardiac disease. Antibodies cross-reacting with PRKG1 and tropomyosin may cause known COVID-19 complications such as blood-clotting disorders and cardiac disease, respectively. Our findings illuminate COVID-19 pathogenesis and highlight the importance of considering autoimmune potential when developing therapeutic interventions to reduce adverse reactions.

Keywords: AlphaFold2; COVID-19 complications; coronavirus; machine learning; molecular dynamics; omicron; protein structure comparison; tropomyosin; vaccine design; variant.