In a new study, researchers found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can relieve pain.
The finding may explain why nearly half of people who get COVID-19 experience few or no symptoms, even though they are able to spread the disease.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Arizona.
Many biological pathways signal the body to feel pain.
One is through a protein named VEGF-A, which plays a big role in blood vessel growth but also has been linked to diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and, most recently, COVID-19.
Like a key in a lock, when VEGF-A binds to the receptor neuropilin, it initiates a cascade of events resulting in the hyperexcitability of neurons, which leads to pain.
In the study, the team found that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein binds to neuropilin in exactly the same location as VEGF-A.
With that knowledge, they performed a series of experiments in the laboratory to test their hypothesis that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein acts on the VEGF-A/neuropilin pain pathway.
They found the spike protein completely reversed the VEGF-induced pain completely.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated data Sept. 10 estimating 50% of COVID-19 transmission occurs prior to the onset of symptoms and 40% of COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic.
This research raises the possibility that pain, as an early symptom of COVID-19, may be reduced by the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein as it silences the body’s pain signaling pathways.
The researchers are leveraging this unique finding to explore a novel class of therapeutics for pain as we continue to seek new ways to address the opioid epidemic.
One author of the study is Rajesh Khanna, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Medicine.
The study is published in Pain.
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