Research by the team of Professor Rafael Najmanovich at the University of Montreal explains why the new strain of COVID-19, originating in England, more easily infects humans.
• Read also: All developments in the COVID-19 pandemic
Before taking the next step, the team of scientists first needed to understand the phenomenon behind the increased infectivity of novel coronavirus variants. The results described in a prepublication filed on December 21 are the subject of much attention.
To simplify the situation, the professor in the department of pharmacology and physiology at the University of Montreal, compares the whole thing to a clamp and a bolt.
An open clamp
The surface of the virus is covered with a multitude of copies of a protein called Spicule. This protein is represented by the famous red protuberances on the usual drawing of the virus.
According to the researcher, this protein can be in the “open” or “closed” state, allowing the virus to attach to human cells, a key stage of infection.
The anchor point to human cells is another protein, called ACE2.
To expose what happens when a human contracts the virus, the researcher compares the ACE2 protein to a bolt, and the Spicule protein to a clamp.
“This is the first step for the virus to enter the human cell. You need a specific shape, ”says Najmanovich.
The more open the clamp (Spicule protein), the more it adheres to the bolt (ACE2 protein), thus facilitating infection. According to research results, the new variant is more often in the “open” state than that of the original virus.
“It stays a lot longer in the open state. The virus has many more possibilities to interact, ”adds the professor. This would therefore facilitate infection through better adhesion to human cells.
The mutation that affects the “open / closed” state of the protein is so strong that it is even predicted that it will be predominant in future strains. “There are more mutations that will have the same effect”, believes the researcher.
But why is a detailed knowledge of this protein of great importance? To develop a useful strategy in the future, says a colleague of Professor Najmanovich. This alarm signal would be essential.
“This allows chemists to develop compounds to block viral infection and thus prevent infections,” says Joelle Pelletier, also from the University of Montreal.
Is it reassuring to understand the phenomenon or worrying to see the changes?
“It leads us to try to find drugs that change this dynamic of the protein towards the closed state. The protein must be prevented from remaining in an open state. It is a question of human psychology. I prefer to know more to be ready, ”concludes Mr. Najmanovich.
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Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my email@example.com 1-800-268-7116