The aim of this study was to investigate the role of molecular mimicry in the cytokine storms associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Human proteins endowed with anti-inflammatory activity were assembled and analyzed for peptide sharing with the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein (gp) using public databases. It was found that the SARS-CoV-2 spike gp shares numerous pentapeptides with anti-inflammatory proteins that, when altered, can lead to cytokine storms characterized by diverse disorders such as systemic multiorgan hyperinflammation, macrophage activation syndrome, ferritinemia, endothelial dysfunction, and acute respiratory syndrome. Immunologically, many shared peptides are part of experimentally validated epitopes and are also present in pathogens to which individuals may have been exposed following infections or vaccinal routes and of which the immune system has stored memory. Such an immunologic imprint might trigger powerful anamnestic secondary cross-reactive responses, thus explaining the raging of the cytokine storm that can occur following exposure to SARS-CoV-2. In conclusion, the results support molecular mimicry and the consequent cross-reactivity as a potential mechanism in SARS-CoV-2-induced cytokine storms, and highlight the role of immunological imprinting in determining high-affinity, high-avidity, autoimmune cross-reactions as a pathogenic sequela associated with anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.
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