A team of researchers has found what makes SARS-CoV-2 highly infectious, which means scientists can now look at ways to block it from infecting.
The findings, published in the journal Science, explained how the virus’s ability to infect human cells can be reduced by inhibitors that block a newly discovered interaction between virus and host. The researchers believe that this could lead to a potential anti-viral treatment.
Unlike other coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 is highly infectious, proliferates faster and infects organs outside of the respiratory system, such as the brain and heart.
In this breakthrough study, the researchers, including professors at Bristol’s Faculty of Life Sciences, used multiple approaches to discover that SARS-CoV-2 recognises a protein called neuropilin-1 on the surface of human cells to facilitate infection.
The authors of the paper explained: “In looking at the sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein we were struck by the presence of a small sequence of amino acids that appeared to mimic a protein sequence found in human proteins which interact with neuropilin-1.”
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They added: “This led us to propose a simple hypothesis: could the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 associate with neuropilin-1 to aid viral infection of human cells? Excitingly, in applying a range of structural and biochemical approaches we have been able to establish that the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 does indeed bind to neuropilin-1.”
“Once we had established that the Spike protein bound to neuropilin-1 we were able to show that the interaction serves to enhance SARS-CoV-2 invasion of human cells grown in cell culture,” the authors further noted.
The researchers explained that by using monoclonal antibodies – lab-created proteins that resemble naturally occurring antibodies – or a selective drug that blocks the interaction they have been able to reduce SARS-CoV-2’s ability to infect human cells. This highlights the potential therapeutic value of our discovery in the fight against Covid-19.”
The researchers at Bristol concluded: “To defeat Covid-19 we will be relying on an effective vaccine and an arsenal of anti-viral therapeutics. Our discovery of the binding of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike to neuropilin-1 and its importance for viral infectivity provides a previously unrecognised avenue for anti-viral therapies to curb the current Covid-19 pandemic.”