Scientists claim that there’s more to the coronavirus than what meets the eye. A recent study has discovered a new vulnerability in the spike protein of the coronavirus that makes the viral particles enter the host cells. This discovery can help in identifying a better treatment plan for the disease.
According to the researchers at Northwestern University, the U.S., this spike protein contains the binding site of the virus through which the coronavirus binds to the host cells and enters the body. This study has been published in the ACS Nano. For the purpose of the study, the researchers used stimulations of this binding protein at ultra-small scales and discovered a positively charged site aka the polybasic cleavage site. This site is located approximately 10 nanometers from the actual binding site on the spike protein of the coronavirus.
This positive site enables the interaction between the positively charged spike protein of the virus and the negatively charged human cell. According to scientists, blocking this positive site can play a key role in inhibiting the coronavirus from entering the host cells. Monica Olvera de la Cruz, co-author of the study said, “Our work indicates that blocking this cleavage site may act as a viable prophylactic treatment that decreases the virus’s ability to infect humans. Our results explain experimental studies showing that mutations of the coronavirus spike proteins affected the virus transmissivity.”
This polybasic site is made up of protein building blocks aka amino acids and has remained elusive since the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, early studies had indicated that these sites play a crucial role in the virulence and the transmission of the virus.
Another lead author of the study, Dr. Baofu Qaio said, “We didn’t expect to see electrostatic interactions at 10 nanometers. In physiological conditions, all electrostatic interactions no longer occur at distances longer than one nanometer. The function of the polybasic cleavage site has remained elusive. However, it appears to be cleaved by an enzyme (furin) that is abundant in the lungs, which suggests it is a crucial site for coronavirus entry in human cells.”
The scientists are now planning to team up with a team of pharmacologists to devise a drug that can bind to the spike protein of the coronavirus and block its transmission.