• Profile

AI decodes protein fragments that cause serious COVID outcomes

IANS Jan 31, 2024

Using an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system, scientists may now have the beginning of answers to why SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the disease, causes severe symptoms in some patients, while many other Coronaviruses don't.

The team from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) explored a way that COVID-19 turns the immune system -- which is crucial for keeping people alive -- against the body itself, with potentially deadly results.

Using a novel AI system, the study appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scanned the entire collection of proteins produced by SARS-CoV-2 and then performed an exhaustive series of validation experiments.

The scientists found that certain viral protein fragments, generated after the SARS-CoV-2 virus is broken down into pieces, can mimic a key component of the body's machinery for amplifying immune signals.

Their discoveries suggest that some of the most serious COVID-19 outcomes can result from these fragments overstimulating the immune system, thereby causing rampant inflammation in widely different contexts such as cytokine storms and lethal blood coagulation.

"What we found deviates from the standard picture of viral infection," said Gerard Wong, Professor of bioengineering at UCLA.

"The textbooks tell us that after the virus is destroyed, the sick host 'wins,' and different pieces of the virus can be used to train the immune system for future recognition. COVID-19 reminds us that it's not this simple.

"For comparison, if one were to assume that after food gets digested into its molecular components, then its effects on the body are over, it would be very liberating; I wouldn't have to worry about the half-dozen jelly doughnuts I just ate. However this simple picture is not correct," Wong said.

The team found that SARS-CoV-2 fragments can imitate innate immune peptides, a class of immune molecules that amplify signals to activate the body's natural defences.

Peptides are chains of amino acids like proteins, only shorter. These immune peptides can spontaneously assemble into new structures with double-stranded RNA, a special form of a molecule essential for building proteins from DNA, typically found in viral infections or released by dying cells.

The resultant hybrid complex of the immune peptides and double-stranded RNA kicks off a chain reaction that triggers an immune response.

In addition to their AI analysis, the researchers used state-of-the-art methods for elucidating nano-scale biological structures and conducted experiments.

Compared to relatively harmless Coronaviruses that cause the common cold, the team found that SARS-CoV-2 harbours many more combinations of fragments that can better mimic human immune peptides.

Consistent with that, additional experiments with multiple cell types all consistently show that fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus prompt an amplified inflammatory response compared to those from a common cold Coronavirus.

Likewise, experiments with an experimental model show that fragments from SARS-CoV-2 lead to a huge immune response, especially in the lungs, the researchers said.

Only Doctors with an M3 India account can read this article. Sign up for free or login with your existing account.
4 reasons why Doctors love M3 India
  • Exclusive Write-ups & Webinars by KOLs

  • Nonloggedininfinity icon
    Daily Quiz by specialty
  • Nonloggedinlock icon
    Paid Market Research Surveys
  • Case discussions, News & Journals' summaries
Sign-up / Log In
M3 app logo
Choose easy access to M3 India from your mobile!

M3 instruc arrow
Add M3 India to your Home screen
Tap  Chrome menu  and select "Add to Home screen" to pin the M3 India App to your Home screen