The virus that causes COVID-19 acts as a pain reliever, suggest the results of a new study that may offer “a possible explanation for the relentless spread” of the disease, the researchers said.
Researchers at the Arizona University of Health Sciences said SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may inadvertently work as a pain reliever, which “may explain why near half of all people who contract COVID-19 have little or no disease. symptoms, even if they are able to spread the disease, ”according to a press release on the results.
“It seemed very logical to me that perhaps the reason for the relentless spread of COVID-19 was that at first you were walking around just fine as if nothing had happened because your pain was taken away”, Study correspondent Rajesh Khanna, Ph.D., said in a statement. Khanna is also a professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson.
“This research raises the possibility that pain, as an early symptom of COVID-19, may be reduced by the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein because it silences the body’s pain signaling pathways,” Senior Vice President of Health Sciences, Dr Michael D Dake, added in a statement.
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Medical experts studying the new virus believe that SARS-CoV-2 infects humans when the virus’s spike protein attaches to the ACE2 receptor on human cells. However, the virus can also use a second receptor, neuropilin-1, to infect humans. At least two studies from last summer concluded that the virus also uses the neuropilin-1 receptor, according to the press release.
“This caught our attention because for the past 15 years my lab has been studying a complex of proteins and pathways related to pain management downstream of neuropilin,” Khanna said. “So we took a step back and realized that this could mean that maybe the spike protein was involved in some kind of pain treatment.
“There are many biological pathways that signal the body to feel pain. The first is a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A), which is essential for the growth of blood vessels but has also been linked to diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and more recently, COVID-19 ”the press release reads. “Like a key in a lock, when VEGF-A binds to the neuropilin receptor, it triggers a cascade of events leading to hyperexcitability of neurons, which leads to pain.
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The research team found that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein “binds to neuropilin in exactly the same place as VEGF-A,” the statement said. The team used rodents to test their theory, using VEGF-A “as a trigger to induce excitability in neurons, which creates pain, and then added the spike protein SARS-CoV-2.”
“The spike protein completely reversed VEGF-induced pain signaling,” Khanna said. “It doesn’t matter if we were using very high peak doses or extremely low doses – it completely reversed the pain.”
In addition to offering an explanation for the wide spread of COVID-19, the researchers also said their findings could help scientists create non-opioid pain treatments in a bid to fight the opioid epidemic by course in the country.
“We are moving forward with the design of small molecules against neuropilin, especially natural compounds, which could be important for pain relief,” Khanna said. “We have a pandemic and an opioid epidemic. They collide. Our results have massive implications for both. SARS-CoV-2 teaches us about viral spread, but COVID-19 also leads us to consider neuropilin as a new non-opioid method to fight the opioid epidemic.
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