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The pathogenesis of severe COVID-19 remains poorly understood. While several studies suggest that immune dysregulation plays a central role, the key mediators of this process are yet to be defined. Here, we demonstrate that plasma from a high proportion (77%) of critically ill COVID-19 patients, but not healthy controls, contains broadly auto-reactive immunoglobulin M (IgM), and only infrequently auto-reactive IgG or IgA. Importantly, these auto-IgM preferentially recognize primary human lung cells in vitro, including pulmonary endothelial and epithelial cells. By using a combination of flow cytometry, LDH-release assays, and analytical proteome microarray technology, we identified high-affinity, complement-fixing, auto-reactive IgM directed against 263 candidate auto-antigens, including numerous molecules preferentially expressed on cellular membranes in pulmonary, vascular, gastrointestinal, and renal tissues. These findings suggest that broad IgM-mediated autoimmune reactivity may be involved in the pathogenesis of severe COVID-19, thereby identifying a potential target for novel therapeutic interventions.

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