How does the virus hijack and damage the alveoli?

Posted by Ellen Burns on December 25th, 2020

How exactly does the coronavirus hijack and rapidly cause damage to human lung cells? By combining bioengineered human alveolar cells with high-precision mass spectrometry technology, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine have mapped the first molecular response of human lung cells infected with coronavirus, thus providing a pathological basis and new therapeutic targets for blocking coronavirus.

The researchers found that phosphorylation, an important type of protein modification, became abnormal in lung cells infected with coronavirus. Phosphorylation of proteins plays a major role in regulating protein function in living organisms, and protein abundance and protein phosphorylation are usually highly controlled processes in normal cells. However, they found that coronavirus confuses lung cells, resulting in abnormal changes in the number of proteins and the frequency of protein phosphorylation within these cells. These abnormal changes contribute to viral propagation and ultimately cell destruction, and destruction of infected cells may lead to extensive lung damage.

After entering lung cells, the coronavirus begins to rapidly utilize the core resources of cells, which are necessary for the normal growth and function of cells, the researchers said. Viruses use these resources for proliferation while evading the attack of the human immune system. In this way, new viruses form and subsequently leave the severely damaged lung cells, allowing them to self-destruct. These new viruses then infect other cells and repeat the same cycle.

The researchers examined alveolar cells within 1 hour to 24 hours after infection with coronavirus to understand the immediate (1, 3, and 6 hours after infection with new corona virus) changes that occur in pneumocytes and changes that occur after 24 hours of infection and then compared them with uninfected cells. All proteins from infected and uninfected alveolar cells (corresponding to different time points) were extracted and labeled with unique barcode tags for reliable quantification of protein and phosphorylation abundance in cells.

The results indicate that lung cells infected with the coronavirus show dramatic changes in the abundance and phosphorylation events of thousands of proteins compared to normal uninfected lung cells. In addition, the coronavirus caused a large number of such changes as early as 1 h after infection and laid the foundation for complete hijacking of host lung cells.

To determine the potential opportunities for coronavirus therapy, the researchers also analyzed the data and found that at least 18 existing clinically approved drugs, originally developed for other medical conditions, may prevent the proliferation of coronavirus in lung cells and are expected to be used for coronavirus therapy.

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Ellen Burns

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Ellen Burns
Joined: November 1st, 2019
Articles Posted: 28

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