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Effect of Corticosteroids on Long-term Humoral and Memory T-Cell Responses in Follow-up Visit of Hospitalized Patients With COVID-19.

Chest 2024 March 2
BACKGROUND: Corticosteroids have beneficial effects in improving outcomes in hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19 by suppressing excessive immune responses. However, the effect of corticosteroids on the humoral and T-cell responses of survivors of COVID-19 1 year after infection remains uncertain because it relates to the extent of immediate, antigen-specific defense provided by protective memory.

RESEARCH QUESTION: What is the effect of corticosteroids on long-term humoral and T-cell immune responses?

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: In this retrospective cohort study conducted at a single center, we analyzed data from a cohort who had survived COVID-19 to compare the 1-year seropositivity and titer changes in neutralizing antibodies (NAbs) and SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies. Additionally, we evaluated the magnitude and rate of SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cell response in individuals who received corticosteroids during hospitalization and those who did not.

RESULTS: Our findings indicated that corticosteroids do not statistically influence the kinetics or seropositive rate of NAbs against the Wuhan strain of SARS-CoV-2 from 6 months to 1 year. However, subgroup analysis revealed a numerical increase of absolute NAbs titers, from 20.0 to 28.2, in categories where long-term (> 15 days) and high-dose (> 560 mg) corticosteroids are administered. Similarly, corticosteroids showed no significant effect on nucleoprotein and receptor-binding domain IgG at 1 year, except for spike protein IgG (β, 0.08; 95% CI, 0.04-0.12), which demonstrated a delayed decline of titers. Regarding T-cell immunity, corticosteroids did not affect the rate or magnitude of T-cell responses significantly. However, functional assessment of memory T cells revealed higher interferon-γ responses in CD4 (β, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.10-1.12) and CD8 (β, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.11-1.15) memory T cells in the corticosteroids group at 1 year.

INTERPRETATION: Based on our findings, short-term and low-dose corticosteroid therapy during hospitalization does not have a significant effect on long-term humoral kinetics or the magnitude and rate of memory T-cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 antigens. However, the potential harmful effects of long-term and high-dose corticosteroid use on memory immune responses require further investigation.

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