A team of Israeli researchers have identified five proteins in the SARS-CoV-2 virus that are responsible for severe vascular damage that could lead to heart attack or stroke. While Covid-19 is largely known as respiratory disease, there has been a very high incidence of vascular disease and blood clotting, for example stroke and heart attack, among Covid patients. Researchers from Tel Aviv University identified the five proteins from a total of 29 different proteins that make up the novel coronavirus. When the coronavirus enters the body, it begins to produce 29 proteins, the team said.
In the process of infection and the protein development, the "blood vessels turn from opaque tubes into kind of permeable nets or pieces of cloth, and in parallel there is an increase in blood clotting", said Dr Ben Maoz, Afrom the varsity's Department of Biomedical Engineering and Sagol School of Neuroscience.
The team thoroughly examined the effect of each of the 29 proteins expressed by the virus, and were successful in identifying the five specific proteins that cause the greatest damage to endothelial cells and hence to vascular stability and function.
"We tend to think of Covid as primarily a respiratory disease, but the truth is that coronavirus patients are up to three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack. All the evidence shows that the virus severely damages the blood vessels or the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. However, to this day the virus has been treated as one entity. We wanted to find out which proteins in the virus are responsible for this type of damage," Maoz said.
In the study, published in the journal eLife, the team used the RNA of each of the Covid-19 proteins and examined the reaction that occurred when the various RNA sequences were inserted into human blood vessel cells in the lab.
In addition, the team used a computational model which allowed them to assess and identify which coronavirus proteins have the greatest effect on other tissues, without having seen them 'in action' in the lab.
"Our research could help find targets for a drug that will be used to stop the virus's activity, or at least minimise damage to blood vessels," Maoz noted.