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Covid’s X-factor discovered

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Covid’s X-factor discovered

Why do some people suffer badly from a Covid-19 infection when others hardly show any symptoms? It could all be to do with proteins in the SARS-CoV-2 virus that try to deactivate our immune response, new research has discovered.

A research team at the Cleveland Clinic has for the very first time identified the enzyme, PLpro (papain-like protease), and they think it plays an important part in determining the severity of a Covid infection.

The protein can block the body’s immune response to the infection, and so understanding how it works—and how it affects people differently—could be an important way forward in treating Covid-19.

“Our findings offer insights into a never-before characterised mechanism of immune activation and how PLpro disrupts this response, enabling the virus to freely replicate and wreak havoc throughout the host,” said lead researcher Michaela Gack.

In laboratory trials, the researchers have been able to isolate and deactivate the protein, and this can lessen the severity of a Covid infection if the process is blocked at an early stage. Without the protein, the immune system’s own receptor proteins, including the MDA5s, are activated when a foreign invader is detected, and this kick-starts the immune system into anti-viral action.

It’s something that the virus has already evolved to figure out, and so we need to get one step ahead—and discovering the PLpro protein is a vital part of that, the researchers say.

(Source: Nature Microbiology, 2021; doi: 10.1038/s41564-021-00884-1)

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