Scientists have revealed why patients with diabetes or heart disease with COVID-19 are more likely to die: the virus clings to cholesterol molecules to gain access to cells, studies show. While studying the role of cholesterol in coronavirus infection, researchers have found a link between high cholesterol levels and increased cell infection.
New laboratory studies show that cholesterol can help the coronavirus infect human cells by acting like a taxi.
According to the Daily Mail, the findings provide an opportunity to explain why people with metabolic disorders such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, who often have high cholesterol levels, account for a disproportionate number of patients who develop severe symptoms of COVID-19.
The researchers found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 can adhere to cholesterol molecules as they bind to their normal cellular receptor known as SR-B1. This helps position the pathogen so that its spike protein can bind to the ACE2 receptor, allowing it to infect the cell.
The study, published in the journal Nature Metabolism by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences, examines the role of “good” cholesterol, also known as high density lipoprotein (HDL), in coronavirus infection.
The study specifically studied the SR-B1 receptor, which binds to cholesterol molecules and is found in cells throughout the human body, including the lungs, where the coronavirus targets.
Research has shown that SARS-CoV-2 cannot use this receptor directly, but it can use the process of combining cholesterol with SR-B1 to infiltrate cells.
The viral spike on the coronavirus – the same one that clings to ACE2 – consists of two parts, called subunit 1 and subunit 2.
In their experiments, Chinese scientists have discovered a subunit that can be attached to cholesterol. This means that when cholesterol naturally migrates to its receptor, it also carries the coronavirus to the cell surface.
The researchers say this “increases viral uptake” and the cholesterol receptor “facilitates the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into ACE2-expressing cells by increasing viral attachment.” The researchers then found that by blocking and neutralizing SR-B1, it suppressed infection.
They say targeting the SR-B1 receptor could be a potential treatment in the future. “The results of our study demonstrate that SR-B1 promotes attachment, penetration and infection of SARS-CoV-2 cells,” the researchers explain in their article. “Thus, SR-B1 may represent a therapeutic target for limiting SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
This discovery is likely to benefit people with certain underlying medical conditions more than others. People with heart disease and diabetes who are most likely to have elevated HDL levels are among those who will benefit the most.
“Heart disease and diabetes are associated with an increased risk of severe COVID-19,” the researchers write. – About half of patients with COVID-19 suffer from chronic diseases, mainly cardiovascular and cerebrovascular, as well as diabetes. In addition, increased mortality from COVID-19 is observed in obese or diabetic patients. ”
Data from the UK’s National Health Service for April show that nearly a third (29 percent) of coronavirus patients have heart disease and nearly a fifth (19 percent) have diabetes.
A previous study by the National Health Service and Imperial College found that patients with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to die from Covid-19, and type 1 diabetics are three and a half times more likely to die.
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