In a recent study at the University of Arizona, 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 study is published in Pain. One author is Rajesh Khanna, Ph.D.
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, 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 did 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 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 using this unique finding to explore a novel class of therapeutics for pain as we continue to seek new ways to address the opioid epidemic.
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