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A study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Cedars-Sinai addresses a mystery first raised in March: Why do some people with COVID-19 develop severe inflammation? The research shows how the molecular structure and sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein–part of the virus that causes COVID-19–could be behind the inflammatory syndrome cropping up in infected patients.

The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses computational modeling to zero in on a part of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that may act as a “superantigen,” kicking the immune system into overdrive as in toxic shock syndrome–a rare, life-threatening complication of bacterial infections.

Symptoms of a newly identified condition in pediatric COVID-19 patients, known as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), include persistent fever and severe inflammation that can affect a host of bodily systems.

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