THURSDAY, Aug. 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- New research offers insight into a rare but dangerous inflammatory disease that can occur in children after COVID-19 infection, researchers report.
More than 2,600 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) have been reported in the United States since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It's characterized by fever, pain and inflammation of multiple organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal tract.
An autoimmune condition has been suggested as an underlying cause of MIS-C, but specific genes, pathways and cell types remain unknown.
In this study, researchers at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City discovered that certain infection-fighting cells of the immune system are "exhausted" in children with MIS-C, and that this is associated with a sustained inflammatory response that's a hallmark of infection with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19.
For their gene expression study, the team conducted RNA sequencing of blood samples from the Mount Sinai COVID-19 Biobank, which has collected samples from hundreds of COVID-19 patients.
"Our study implicated T-cell exhaustion in MIS-C patients as one of the potential drivers of this disease, suggesting that an increase in both NK cells and circulating exhausted CD8+ T-cells may improve inflammatory disease symptoms," said co-lead author Noam Beckmann, assistant professor of genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
CD8+ T-cells and NK (natural killer) cells are types of immune cells.
"Additionally, we found nine key regulators of this network known to have associations with NK cell and exhausted CD8+ T cell functionality," Beckmann said in a Mount Sinai news release.
One of those regulators, TBX21, is a promising treatment target because it's a master coordinator of the transition of CD8+ T-cells from effective to exhausted, he explained.
The study is a significant step forward because it points researchers to new pathways involving complex networks and subnetworks of genes that may be associated with MIS-C, according to the authors.
The findings were published Aug. 11 in the journal Nature Communications.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on MIS-C.
SOURCE: Mount Sinai Health System, news release, Aug. 11, 2021