SARS-CoV-2-Specific Immune Responses in Patients With Postviral Syndrome After Suspected COVID-19

Zachary S. Orban, Lavanya Visvabharathy, Gina S. Perez Giraldo, Millenia Jimenez, Igor J. Koralnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Millions of Americans were exposed to SARS-CoV-2 early in the pandemic but could not get diagnosed with COVID-19 due to testing limitations. Many have developed a postviral syndrome (PVS) including neurologic manifestations similar to those with postacute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (Neuro-PASC). Owing to those circumstances, proof of SARS-CoV-2 infection was not required for evaluation at Northwestern Medicine's Neuro COVID-19 clinic. We sought to investigate clinical and immunologic findings suggestive of SARS-CoV-2 exposure in patients with PVS. METHODS: We measured SARS-CoV-2-specific humoral and cell-mediated immune responses against Nucleocapsid and Spike proteins in 29 patients with PVS after suspected COVID-19, 32 confirmed age-matched/sex-matched Neuro-PASC (NP) patients, and 18 unexposed healthy controls. Neurologic symptoms and signs, comorbidities, quality of life, and cognitive testing data collected during clinic visits were studied retrospectively. RESULTS: Of 29 patients with PVS, 12 (41%) had detectable humoral or cellular immune responses consistent with prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Of 12 PVS responders (PVS+), 75% harbored anti-Nucleocapsid and 50% harbored anti-Spike responses. Patients with PVS+ had similar neurologic symptoms as patients with NP, but clinic evaluation occurred 5.3 months later from the time of symptom onset (10.7 vs 5.4 months; p = 0.0006). Patients with PVS+ and NP had similar subjective impairments in quality of life measures including cognitive function and fatigue. Patients with PVS+ had similar results in objective cognitive measures of processing speed, attention, and executive function and better results in working memory than patients with NP. DISCUSSION: Antibody and T-cell assays showed evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 exposure in approximately 40% of the PVS group. Three-quarters of patients with PVS+ had detectable anti-Nucleocapsid and one-half anti-Spike responses, highlighting the importance of multitargeted COVID-19 immunologic evaluation and the limitations of commercially available diagnostic tests. Despite their persistent symptoms, lack of COVID-19 diagnosis likely delayed clinical care in patients with PVS. Our data suggest that millions of Americans presenting with PVS resembling Neuro-PASC were indeed exposed to SARS-CoV-2 at the beginning of the pandemic, and they deserve the same access to care and inclusion in research studies as patients with NP with confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalNeurology(R) neuroimmunology & neuroinflammation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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