SARS-CoV-2 infection has been reported to be associated with a positive direct antiglobulin test (DAT). In this study, an analysis of 40 consecutive coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases from December 2020 to September 2021 in Japan revealed that patients of 70 years and over were predisposed to a positive DAT. DAT positivity was related to a decrease in the hemoglobin level. Anemia in DAT-positive COVID-19 patients was attributed to hemolysis, which was corroborated by high reticulocyte counts and an increase in the red blood cell distribution width. Human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DRB1*12:01 and DRB1*12:02 were exclusively found in DAT-positive COVID-19 patients. In silico assays for the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 predicted several common core peptides that met the criteria for a B cell epitope and strong binding to both HLA-DRB1*12:01 and DRB1*12:02. Among these peptides, the amino acids sequence TSNFR, which is found within the S1 subunit of SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein, is shared by human blood group antigen Rhesus (Rh) CE polypeptides. In vitro analysis showed that the expression of HLA-DR in CD4+ T cells and CD8+ T cells from a DAT-positive patient was increased after pulsation with TSNFR-sequence-containing peptides. In summary, positive DAT is related to enhanced anemia and to HLA-DR12 in the Japanese population. A peptide sequence within SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein may act as an epitope for IgG binding to RBCs in DAT-positive COVID-19 patients.
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