Why does COVID cause vascular damage? An Israeli study offers answers

One of the challenging aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the multitude of symptoms and long-term consequences that the disease causes in infected people.

Among other symptoms, some COVID-19 patients have suffered severe vascular damage, and doctors cannot understand what mechanism triggered this particular complication.

Now, a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University has identified the five proteins out of the 29 that make up the virus that are responsible for damaging blood vessels.

“We see a very high incidence of vascular disease and blood clotting, for example stroke and heart attack, among COVID patients,” says Dr. Ben Maoz, lead author of the study published in the journal. eLife.

“We tend to think of COVID primarily as a respiratory illness, but the truth is that coronavirus patients are up to three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack,” he added. “All the evidence shows that the virus severely damages the blood vessels or the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. However, to this day, the virus has been treated as one entity. We wanted to know which proteins of the virus are responsible for this type of damage ”.

Tel Aviv University. (credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM)

The study was conducted by experts from many fields, including neuroscience and computer science.

The researchers inserted different RNA sequences from the virus’ proteins into human blood vessel cells in the laboratory to identify their reaction.

“When the coronavirus enters the body, it begins to produce 29 proteins, a new virus forms, then that virus produces 29 new proteins, and so on,” Maoz said. “In this process, our blood vessels go from opaque tubes to a kind of nets or permeable pieces of cloth, and in parallel the blood coagulation increases. We thoroughly examined the effect of each of the 29 proteins expressed by the virus and were able to identify the five specific proteins that cause the most damage to endothelial cells and therefore vascular stability and function. “

The group also used a computational model to verify which coronavirus proteins would have the greatest effect on other tissues, without performing the relevant experiments in the laboratory.

The hope is that as the mechanism causing the vascular damage is revealed, the information will be used to develop a treatment to solve the problem.

“Our research could help find targets for a drug that will be used to stop the activity of the virus, or at least minimize damage to blood vessels.”


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