In a new study, researchers found a protein produced by the human immune system can strongly inhibit corona viruses, including SARS-Cov-2, the pathogen causing COVID-19.
They successfully showed that the LY6E-Protein prevents coronaviruses from causing an infection.
This finding might lead to the development of new treatment against coronaviruses.
The research was conducted by an international team from Germany, Switzerland, and the U.S.
The LY6E protein plays a role in various diseases: The team discovered that the protein enhances the infectivity of influenza viruses. In contrast, coronaviruses are inhibited by LY6E.
In the study, they aimed to identify genes that prevent coronavirus infections. This led to the discovery that LY6E has the opposite effect on coronaviruses compared to influenza viruses.
Further work showed that the protein exerted this inhibitory effect on all analyzed coronaviruses, including the pathogens causing SARS and Mers as well as SARS-Cov-2 which causes COVID-19.
Tests with different cell cultures showed that LY6E affects the ability of the virus to fuse with the host cells. If the virus is unable to fuse with these cells, it can’t cause infection.
The validation in an animal model succeeded. The experiments led to the discovery that the mouse variant of the protein called Ly6e is crucial for the protection of immune cells against infections.
In the absence of Ly6e, immune cells such as dendritic cells and B-cells become more susceptible to infection and their numbers decrease dramatically.
Mice lacking Ly6e in immune cells are highly susceptible to a normally non-lethal mouse coronavirus and succumb to infection.
The researchers point out that the mouse coronavirus used in the experiment differs significantly from the pathogen causing the current COVID-19 outbreak—for example, it causes hepatitis rather than respiratory disease.
Nevertheless, it is widely accepted as a model for understanding the basic concepts of coronavirus replication and immune responses in a living animal.
The study provides new insights into how important these antiviral genes are for the control of viral infection and for an adequate immune response against the virus.
Since LY6E is a naturally occurring human protein, the team hopes that this knowledge will aid the development of therapies that may one day be used to treat coronavirus infections.
One author of the study is Professor Stephanie Pfänder from the Department for Molecular and Medical Virology at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB).
The study is published in Nature Microbiology.
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