Autoimmunity and COVID-19 – The microbiotal connection

Nurit Katz-Agranov, Gisele Zandman-Goddard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background and aims: The novel SARS-CoV-2 has been rattling the world since its outbreak in December 2019, leading to the COVID-19 pandemic. The learning curve of this new virus has been steep, with a global scientific community desperate to learn how the virus is transmitted, how it replicates, why it causes such a wide spectrum of disease manifestations, resulting in none or few symptoms in some. Others are burdened by an intense immune response that resembles the cytokine storm syndrome (CSS), which leads to severe disease manifestations, often complicated by fatal acute respiratory distress syndrome and death. Research efforts have been focusing on finding effective cures and vaccinations for this virus. The presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, represented by several GI manifestations, has led to its investigation as a target for the virus and as an indicator of disease severity. The response of the microbiome (which is heavily linked to immunity) to the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus, and its role in igniting the exaggerated immune response has therefore become a focus of interest. The objective of our study was to gather the data connecting between the microbiome, the GI tract and COVID-19 and to investigate whether these reported alterations in the gut microbiome bear any resemblance to those seen in lupus, the prototypical autoimmune disease. Confirming such changes may become the steppingstone to potential therapies that may prevent transmission, progression and immune related manifestations of COVID-19, via manipulation of the gut microbiota. Methods: We performed an extensive literature review, utilizing the Pubmed search engine and Google Scholar for studies evaluating the microbiome in COVID-19 patients and compared results with studies evaluating the microbiome in lupus. We searched for the terms: microbiome, dysbiosis, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, gastrointestinal as well as lupus and autoimmune. While there were hundreds of articles which referred to gastrointestinal manifestations in COVID-19, to date only 4 studies investigated the gastrointestinal microbiome in this setting. We compared the similarities between microbiome of COVID-19 patients and lupus patients. Results: We found that there are several similar processes of immune dysregulation in patients with COVID-19 and in those with lupus, with several other alterations seen in other pathological states. Some of these similarities include loss of microbiota biodiversity, increased representation of pathobionts, which are microbes associated with inflammation and disease (i.e Proteobacteria) and a relative decrease of symbionts, which are protective microbes, associated with anti-inflammatory properties (i.e Lactobacillus). Compromise to the intestinal barrier has also been reported in both. Conclusions: We conclude that the gastrointestinal tract contributes to the disease manifestations in COVID-19. Whether gastrointestinal dysbiosis is the cause or effect of gastrointestinal manifestations and several severe systemic manifestations, which may be the response to an increased pro-inflammatory environment, is still debatable and warrants further investigation. Given the resemblance of the microbiome in COVID-19 patients to that seen in lupus patients, it becomes clearer why several therapies used in autoimmune conditions are currently under investigation for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Moreover, these findings should promote further investigating the utility of manipulation of the microbiome, via nutritional supplementation or even fecal transplantations, interventions that may alter the course of the disease, and potentially prevent disease transmission at low cost and low risk.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102865
JournalAutoimmunity Reviews
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Autoimmunity
  • COVID-19
  • Dysbiosis
  • Lupus
  • Microbiome
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • SLE


Dive into the research topics of 'Autoimmunity and COVID-19 – The microbiotal connection'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this