Thankfully, COVID affects children far less severely than adults, but why? The more we can understand our immune responses against COVID-19, the more likely we can find ways to combat the disease and boost those defenses. The fact that children do not suffer as often or as severely as adults has attracted much attention from researchers. Researchers at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons believe antibody production plays a role in these observed differences.
Antibodies are produced by B cells in the adaptive arm of our immune systems so that viruses like COVID-19 or other microbes are targeted for destruction. Vaccines work generally by stimulating this production so that when the actual infection comes along, the body is already prepared with antibody levels sufficient for defense.
In this study, the researchers compared levels of different antibodies against COVID-19 between children with the disease and adults. They found that children had lower levels of the antibodies which would make one think they were less immune. Actually, this finding likely indicates the children had stronger innate arms of the immune system and thus did not need as much antibodies.
The innate arm of the immune system acts as first responders to infectious invaders with various cells and cell products acting to destroy the invader and disable cells where viruses are growing. Children are known to possess a stronger innate system whereas adults depend more on the adaptive arm with its antibodies.
In the study, antibodies against the spike proteins were lower in children. These viral proteins do not rise until the virus is growing in the body and more widespread. The findings suggest that the children did not have significant viral replication occurring in their bodies even when they did have severe illness from COVID-19. The adults had higher levels presumably because they were reacting to higher levels of the spike protein made during viral replication.
Besides providing insight on the mechanisms of disease by COVID-19, this also offers clues to how a vaccine might work and whether or not a vaccine would work for COVID. A vaccine against the viral spike protein may or may not work until the virus is already spreading more rapidly in the body. On the other hand, finding a way to trigger the innate immune system may offer earlier protection from the full viral onslaught.
We have a lot to learn, but with COVID-19 remaining in the world’s spotlight, we have a front row seat. Each development is quickly published as we attempt to shine light into the darkness of this new disease. Preparing for 2020 and beyond requires some time and effort to keep up with the advances, but those of us in functional medicine appreciate the advancing understanding of our immune system that COVID-19 research offers. We live in anxious yet promising times of deeper insight into helping our patients live healthier more abundant lives.
Stuart P. Weisberg, Thomas J. Connors, Yun Zhu, Matthew R. Baldwin, Wen-Hsuan Lin, Sandeep Wontakal, Peter A. Szabo, Steven B. Wells, Pranay Dogra, Joshua Gray, Emma Idzikowski, Debora Stelitano, Francesca T. Bovier, Julia Davis-Porada, Rei Matsumoto, Maya Meimei Li Poon, Michael Chait, Cyrille Mathieu, Branka Horvat, Didier Decimo, Krystalyn E. Hudson, Flavia Dei Zotti, Zachary C. Bitan, Francesca La Carpia, Stephen A. Ferrara, Emily Mace, Joshua Milner, Anne Moscona, Eldad Hod, Matteo Porotto, Donna L. Farber. Distinct antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in children and adults across the COVID-19 clinical spectrum. Nature Immunology, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41590-020-00826-9
Thanks to Science Daily:
Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Children produce different antibodies in response to SARS-CoV-2.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201105183735.htm>.