Coronavirus Pandemic

Covid-19: Study identifies potential factor contributing to severity of infection

Filed on September 25, 2021

Identified cell protein increases risk of complications such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.

A protein that may critically contribute to severe forms of Covid-19 has recently been identified by the University of Kent’s School of Biosciences and the Institute of Medical Virology at Goethe-University.

The study titled ‘A potential role of the CD47-SIRPalpha axis in Covid-19 pathogenesis’ has been published by the scientific journal Current Issues in Molecular Biology.

SARS-CoV-2 is the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. While many individuals develop only mild or no symptoms upon SARS-CoV-2 infection, others develop severe, life-threatening diseases.

Researchers have found that the infection of cells with SARS-CoV-2 results in increased levels of a protein called CD47 on the cell surface.

CD47 is a so-called “do not eat me” signal to the immune system’s defences that protect cells from being destroyed. Virus-induced CD47 on the surface of infected cells is likely to protect them from immune system recognition, enabling the production of larger amounts of virus, resulting in more severe disease.


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Well-known risk factors for severe Covid-19 such as older age and diabetes are associated with higher CD47 levels. High CD47 levels also contribute to high blood pressure, which is a large risk factor for Covid-19 complications such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.

The data suggest that age and virus-induced high CD47 levels contribute to severe Covid-19 by preventing an effective immune response and increasing disease-associated tissue and organ damage.

Since therapeutics targeting CD47 are in development, this discovery may result in improved Covid-19 therapies.

Professor Martin Michaelis, University of Kent, said, “This is exciting. We may have identified a major factor associated with severe Covid-19. This is a huge step in combatting the disease and we can now look forward to further progress in the design of therapeutics.”

Professor Jindrich Cinatl, Goethe-University Frankfurt, said, “These additional insights into the disease processes underlying Covid-19 may help us to design better therapies, as well as an appreciation for the importance of the breadth of research being conducted. Through this avenue, we have achieved a major breakthrough and exemplified that the fight against the disease continues.”

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