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COVID-19 vaccination: myocarditis linked to circulating Spike protein in blood among adolescents and young adults

Risk of severe COVID-19 continues to outweigh rare risk of post-vaccination myocarditis. Among adolescents and young adults who developed this rare complication, researchers found no differences in antibody production, auto-antibodies, T cell profiles, or prior viral exposures, but detected elevated levels of spike protein. Findings point to potential treatment to prevent or reverse post-vaccine myocarditis.

Myocarditis, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed, is a rare complication that can occur after mRNA COVID vaccination. It’s estimated that roughly 18 cases occur in every 1 million vaccine doses administered.

In a new study by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, a team extensively investigated the immune response of 16 adolescents and young adults who developed myocarditis after receipt of the COVID mRNA vaccine.
The researchers found no differences in antibody production, auto-antibodies, T cell profiles, or prior viral exposures, but found elevated levels of spike protein along with increased cytokines ( consistent with innate inflammation ) and increased troponin ( indicating cardiac injury ).
The results are published in Circulation.

Patients with myocarditis can be treated with steroids to reduce inflammation, and there are largely favorable early outcomes for young adults and adolescents who develop this condition after vaccination.
The new study may point to additional ways to treat and improve outcomes for patients with post-vaccination myocarditis.

Researchers have examined blood samples collected from 61 adolescents and young adults, including 16 who developed myocarditis and 45 who had no complications following vaccination with either the Pfizer BNT162b2 or Moderna mRNA-1273 COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.
The team performed antibody profiling, including testing for SARS-CoV-2 specific humoral responses and assessment for autoantibodies or antibodies against the human relevant virome, SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell analysis, and cytokine and SARS-CoV-2 antigen profiling.

Antibody responses and T cell responses were essentially indistinguishable between cases and controls.
Using Simoa, an ultrasensitive test for detecting single molecules, researchers found that adolescents who developed myocarditis had markedly higher levels of full-length Spike protein in their blood.
Adolescents in the asymptomatic, vaccinated control group had no detectable Spike protein.
The researchers have also looked for anti-N IgG, an immunological marker of recent SARS-CoV-2 infection, which was undetectable, suggesting that natural infection was unlikely a contributing factor.

While the study adds new insights about post-vaccination myocarditis, the authors note it is limited by a small sample size and cannot distinguish between cause and consequence; that is, it’s unknown whether the Spike protein itself is causing inflammation to the heart muscle or is a biomarker of immune dysregulation that leads to myocarditis. ( Xagena )

Source: Mass General Brigham, 2022