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University of Nebraska Medical Center

Saliva antibody-fingerprint of reactivated latent viruses after mild/asymptomatic COVID-19 is unique in patients with myalgic-encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome

Frontiers in Immunology

Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a chronic disease considered to be triggered by viral infections in a majority of cases. Symptoms overlap largely with those of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19/long-COVID implying common pathogenetic mechanisms. SARS-CoV-2 infection is risk factor for sustained latent virus reactivation that may account for the symptoms of post-viral fatigue syndromes. The aim of this study was first to investigate whether patients with ME/CFS and healthy donors (HDs) differed in their antibody response to mild/asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection. Secondly, to analyze whether COVID-19 imposes latent virus reactivation in the cohorts.

Methods: Anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were analyzed in plasma and saliva from non-vaccinated ME/CFS (n=95) and HDs (n=110) using soluble multiplex immunoassay. Reactivation of human herpesviruses 1-6 (HSV1, HSV2, VZV, EBV, CMV, HHV6), and human endogenous retrovirus K (HERV-K) was detected by anti-viral antibody fingerprints in saliva.

Results: At 3-6 months after mild/asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, virus-specific antibodies in saliva were substantially induced signifying a strong reactivation of latent viruses (EBV, HHV6 and HERV-K) in both cohorts. In patients with ME/CFS, antibody responses were significantly stronger, in particular EBV-encoded nuclear antigen-1 (EBNA1) IgG were elevated in patients with ME/CFS, but not in HDs. EBV-VCA IgG was also elevated at baseline prior to SARS-infection in patients compared to HDs.

Conclusion: Our results denote an altered and chronically aroused anti-viral profile against latent viruses in ME/CFS. SARS-CoV-2 infection even in its mild/asymptomatic form is a potent trigger for reactivation of latent herpesviruses (EBV, HHV6) and endogenous retroviruses (HERV-K), as detected by antibody fingerprints locally in the oral mucosa (saliva samples). This has not been shown before because the antibody elevation is not detected systemically in the circulation/plasma.

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