Riyadh: A protein in the viruses causing Covid-19 and SARS is almost identical, say researchers, adding that understanding any similarities between SARS and novel coronavirus inflammation could help in a clinical setting.
According to the study, published in journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, the finding could improve the outcomes for Covid-19 patients experiencing severe respiratory symptoms.
The researchers, who have long-standing expertise in analysing genomic data, had, for the current finding, compared the genomes of 24 Betacoronaviruses, including four SARS-CoV-2 viruses, which causes Covid-19. Two of the four were sequenced in the US, while the other two were sequenced in China.
“SARS-CoV-2 appears to have recently evolved from other related Betacoronaviruses, such as the ones causing SARS and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS),” said study’s first author Intikhab Alam from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.
“The research team wanted to understand the genetic makeup of SARS-CoV-2. Seeing what has changed might help find ways to detect the virus and understand its rapid spread. Seeing what remains conserved between these viruses might help predict if therapeutic approaches developed for other Betacoronaviruses could work on SARS-CoV-2,” he said.
The genomic comparisons followed by structural analyses found that a small protein that extends across the viral membrane, called envelope protein E, is almost identical in SARS-CoV-2 and the SARS virus (called SARS-CoV-1). A molecular component of this protein in the SARS virus helps trigger the release of inflammation-causing substances in its host.
This inflammatory reaction causes fluids to accumulate in the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulties, a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome. Scientists studying the SARS virus have found that this reaction can be inhibited in mice by FDA-approved drugs.
“Drugs that inhibit the envelope protein E of previous SARS viruses should also block the protein in Covid-19,” Alam said.
“Even though these drugs won’t stop the virus from spreading, we hope they could attenuate or prevent acute respiratory distress syndrome and help save lives,” he added.