Androgen receptor inhibitors used to treat prostate cancer may also be effective against COVID-19, suggests study
Androgen receptors are specific proteins present on the surface of certain cells that bind to the male hormones testosterone and dihydrotestosterone
In recent research, a group of scientists at the University of Michigan have found that androgen receptors that are used to treat prostate cancer may also be effective against COVID-19 .
The findings of the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PNAS, suggest that since these drugs are already approved for the treatment of a condition, they can be easily repurposed for COVID-19 treatment.
Androgen receptors are specific proteins present on the surface of certain cells that bind to the male hormones testosterone and dihydrotestosterone.
These receptors play an important role in the growth of prostate cancer. Suppression of androgen receptors is hence one of the many ways used to treat prostate cancer.
ACE2 and TMPRSS2
Previous studies have shown that targeting host factors that interact with SARS-CoV-2 can help manage COVID-19 . In the recent study, the researchers found that androgen receptors in the lungs regulate TMPRSS2. Blocking these receptors reduces the expression of both ACE2 and TMPRSS2.
By now, it is well known that SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 causing virus, enters healthy cells in the body through ACE2 receptors present on body cells. However, the virus also uses another cell surface receptor called TMPRSS2 (Transmembrane protease serine 2), an enzyme that cleaves and activates the spike protein of coronavirus .
The researchers used anti-androgen drugs including enzalutamide, apalutamide and darolutamide for the study.
BET proteins are transcription regulators that control various functions in the cells including cell growth and differentiation. They also control inflammation and play a role in androgen signalling.
In addition to androgen suppression, the researchers also studied drugs that degrade BET proteins or inhibit their function. It was found that BET inhibitors suppressed androgen signalling and prevented viral infection.
More androgen signalling in men
The researchers also found more androgen signalling in the lungs of men than women, which they suggested explains why men are more prone to coronavirus disease than women. Additionally, older men (>70 years) who smoke have the highest androgen signalling.
“This explains why elderly men who are smokers are more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. High androgen receptor signalling allows the virus to gain entry and replicate more easily. This may explain why the disease is often particularly severe in older men,” said the research author Dr Arul Chinnaiyan in a news release by the University of Michigan.
As per the news release, many clinical trials are already going on to assess the effects of androgen receptor blockers in the treatment of COVID-19 .
For more information, read our article on Prostate cancer.
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