Coronavirus using a second door to infect human cells. What it means

Another receptor called Neuropilin-1 could be facilitating an alternative gateway for the coronavirus | Image - Eunice Dhivya

From smallpox and plague to tuberculosis and the common cold, the first hurdle in controlling an infectious disease is finding out how the virus or the bacteria that causes these illnesses actually enter the human body. Scientists researching the SARS-COV-2 virus – the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 – crossed that hurdle several months ago. Or so they thought.

Early investigations showed that SARS-CoV-2 infects human cells via a receptor protein called ACE2. But two international teams of researchers now reveal that the coronavirus could be finding other entryways independent of the ACE2 receptor. Their results published in the journal Science indicate that another receptor called Neuropilin-1 could be facilitating an alternative gateway for the virus. Neuropilin -1 is found in the cell wall of several tissues in the human body.

The chosen one

Viruses cannot multiply by themselves and hence invade other living cells to replicate. The virus-host attachment phase is a key stage in the viral life cycle. For this, viruses single out cell types by utilising proteins as hooks. However, the viral protein cannot latch with all kinds of host cells. For example, HIV infects certain types of white blood cells, and the SARS Cov 2 is known to attack the cells lining airways in the lungs.

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