Study finds genetic variant that favors severe forms of covid-19 – Health


Covid patients with severe clinical pictures, requiring hospitalization, “They present a specific genetic variation much more frequently than people with mild courses” of the disease, revealed an investigation by Austrian scientists.

Specifically, it is the lack of a receptor in the immune system which is lacking about 4 percent of the population, Virologist Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl explained in a statement published on Monday by the Vienna Medical University (UniMed).

The results of the study, carried out by researchers from the UniMed Center for Virology in collaboration with doctors from the Viennese hospital Favoriten and led by Puchhammer-Stöckl, were recently published in the journal Genetics in Medicine.

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Its main conclusion is that people with a partial or total absence of the NKG2C receptor they tend to develop severe forms of covid-19. This genetic variation was found especially in people infected with the coronavirus who had to be hospitalized.

“The absence of the receptor was especially common in patients who had to be treated for COVID-19 in intensive care units, regardless of age or sex,” explained Puchhammer-Stöckl in the statement.

Natural absence

The note recalls that the interaction between the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the human immune system significantly influences the course and severity of the covid-19 disease in each patient.

In this context, “the antiviral immune response by natural killer (NK) cells is normally an important step to combat viral replication in the initial phase of infection,” he adds.

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The so-called NK cells (Natural Killer, in English), natural killers or assassin cells – an important lymphocyte of the immune system for the defense of the organism, have specific activating receptors on their surface, including the NKG2C receptor, that communicates with an infected cell through one of its specific structures, HLA-E.

This interaction leads to the destruction of cells infected by the virus, but “about 4 percent of the population naturally lacks the activating receptor NKG2C due to genetic variation, and around 30 percent only partially possess the receptor”, they highlight the scientists.

About 4 percent of the population naturally lacks the activating receptor NKG2C due to genetic variation, and 30 percent only partially possess this receptor.

“Genetic variations in the HLA-E of the infected cell were also associated with the severity of the disease, although to a lesser extent,” said Puchhammer-Stöckl.

These discoveries could open the doors to new formulas to combat the pandemic, says the virologist and professor. Above all, “this part of the immune response could be an important target for (the development of) drugs that could help prevent the severe disease of COVID-19,” he said.

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