Researchers at NUI Galway have published the findings of a study which improves our understanding of the process of COVID-19 viral infections.
The Advanced Glycoscience Research Cluster at NUIG have discovered how human respiratory cells respond to the invading Covid-19 virus.
The study, published in a special issue of the peer reviewed open access journal Viruses, identified the proteins and carbohydrates on these cells in response to infection from the coronavirus.
Professor Lokesh Joshi, Stokes Professor of Glycosciences at NUIG, explained that all pathogens need the right combination of proteins and carbohydrates to attach to their host.
Just how appropriate the combination of such which a pathogen has can determine how well it attaches to the host’s cells, and the severity of the infection which ensues.
“Mutations cause minor changes in these protein-carbohydrate molecules and can alter the infectivity of the mutants and severity of the disease such as the UK, South African and Brazilian variants.”
The research shows that in the Covid-19 coronavirus the spike-glycoprotein (S-protein) is covered with carbohydrates and it binds to a protein (ACE-2 receptor) on human respiratory cells to start the infection.
Dr Anup Mammen Oommen, postdoctoral researcher, described the interaction of proteins and carbohydrates as “molecular handshakes”, which are often taken for granted, but are a “key event” in an infection.
Dr Stephen Cunningham, Research Fellow, added that, “Like all viruses, Covid-19 virus also mutates as it goes through its host and multiplies.”
As it is an RNA virus, these mutations can come frequently, leaving the infected cells in the body unable to keep up he added.
Some of these are insignificant mutations with “no beneficial or detrimental” impact to either the virus or the infected body, but others can alter the ways in which the virus interacts with cells, either during the initial exposure or during the course of the infection.
This can in turn affect the severity of the COVID-19 disease developed by the infected individual.
Professor Joshi added “The research will also help us gain better insight on how our immune system responds to Covid-19 and the mutations in the virus, such as the variants identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.”
“This discovery will lead to more informative biomarkers and identification of therapeutic targets to combat COVID-19 and future pathogenic agent infections.”