Researchers find new protein 41B that can be used as a drug target for COVID-19 treatment
Researchers also found about 127 other shared molecules between SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses that were involved in various biological processes ranging from cell to cell communication metabolic processes going on inside the cell and cell growth
The first case of the novel coronavirus disease was reported in December 2019. Though SARS-CoV-2 is a rather new virus, scientists have been successful in identifying some existing drug that can be repurposed to treat the disease caused by it.
Most of the suggested drugs target specific proteins or enzymes to either stop the virus from infecting healthy cells or making more copies of itself.
Now, a group of studies done at various institutes including the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center and Rockefeller University indicate a previously unknown weakness, a host protein that interacts with SARS-CoV-2, that can be exploited to fight COVID-19 .
The findings of the study are published in the journal Cell.
Knocking out genes to assess their function in viral replication
For the study, the researchers used CRISPR (a DNA-editing tool) to knock out (make it non-functional) about 19,000 genes in human cells while they were infected by SARS-CoV-2 or three common cold causing coronavirus es (HCoV-OC43, HCoV-NL63 and HCoV-229E) and studied how the knocking out of each gene affected viral replication.
"An important first step in confronting a new contagion like SARS-CoV-2 is to map the molecular landscape to see what possible targets you have to fight it," said Dr John Poirier, co-senior investigator of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health in a news release by the NYU Langone Health.
"Comparing a newly discovered virus to other known viruses can reveal shared liabilities, which we hope serve as a catalogue of potential vulnerabilities for future outbreaks," he added.
TMEM41B protein and other drug targets
Here are some of the findings of the study:
A transmembrane protein 41 B or TMEM41B was found to play an important role in the replication of SARS-CoV-2 and in spreading it to surrounding healthy tissues.
TMEM41B is usually present inside human cells and is involved in the removal of unnecessary components from cells.
As per the news release by NYU Langone Health, this protein aids in shaping the outer fatty layer around the COVID-19 causing virus. This layer is responsible for protecting the RNA of the virus while it replicates and infects other cells. Interestingly, this protein was found to be present in all the types of coronavirus es studied.
Along with TMEM41B, the researchers also found more than 100 other potential drug targets against SARS-CoV-2. Additionally, about 127 other shared molecules were found between SARS-CoV-2 and other coronavirus es that were involved in various biological processes ranging from cell to cell communication metabolic processes going on inside the cell and cell growth.
TMEM41B mutations are seen more frequently in East Asians than in Europeans and Africans. This was suggested to be the possible reason for the variations seen in infection spread in the US and other parts of the world. However, more studies are needed to find out if this mutation actually makes East Asians less susceptible to COVID-19 .
The study authors say that they are next going to study the exact role of TMEM41B in SARS-CoV-2 replication and find ways to target this protein to treat COVID-19 .
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