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How do pangolins protect themselves against the corona virus?
Pangolins can carry the coronavirus, but the lack of two sensors appears to protect the animals from disease. Understanding this evolutionary benefit could suggest possible treatment options for coronaviruses in humans.
In the current study by the Medical University of Vienna, it was found that pangolins can carry the coronavirus, but seem to be protected from illness by the lack of sensors. The results of the study were published in the English language journal "Frontiers in Immunology".
Do missing genes protect pangolins from COVID-19?
Similar to how a smoke alarm triggers an alarm, certain sensors sense the entry of viruses into the body and in such a case trigger an immune response in most mammals. Pangolines (also called pangolin), however, lack two of these important sensors.
Does the study offer new treatment options?
This finding is very important, since pangolines can carry the coronavirus, but tolerate the virus through an unknown mechanism. An understanding of the mechanism behind this protection could indicate potential treatment options for humans.
Why were pangolines examined?
The researchers focused on pangoline in their study because these exotic animals may have transmitted the virus to humans in the past year, triggering the transmission between the species required for the current COVID-19 pandemic. Bats have also been identified as possible infectious agents.
Pangolines lack an actually important form of antiviral defense
For the study, the research group analyzed the genome sequence of pangolines and compared them with other mammals such as humans, cats, dogs and cattle. The research shows that pangolins have survived millions of years of evolution without a type of antiviral defense that is normally used by all other mammals, the researchers report.
Further studies on pangolines are appropriate
"Further studies on pangoline will reveal how they manage to survive viral infections, and this could help develop new treatment strategies for people with viral infections," said study author Professor Dr. Leopold Eckhart from the Medical University of Vienna in a press release.
Medicinal suppression of signal transmission from genes
In humans, the coronavirus can trigger an inflammatory immune response, a so-called cytokine storm, which can make the disease more severe. According to the researchers, a possible treatment option for severe cases of COVID-19 could be drug suppression of gene signal transmission
More research is needed
However, Professor Eckhart warns that such a remedy could open the door to secondary infections. "The biggest challenge is to reduce the response to the pathogen while maintaining adequate control over the virus," the study author continues. An overactivated immune system can be alleviated by reducing the intensity or changing the timing of the immune response. The study only identified genetic differences between pangolins and other mammals, so the antiviral responses of these species need to be carefully examined in subsequent studies. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Heinz Fischer, Erwin Tschachler, Leopold Eckhart: Pangolins Lack IFIH1 / MDA5, a Cytoplasmic RNA Sensor That Initiates Innate Immune Defense Upon Coronavirus Infection, in Frontiers in Immunology (Published May 8, 2020), Frontiers in Immunology
- Genetic defect could protect pangolins against coronavirus, Medical University of Vienna (published May 8, 2020), Medical University of Vienna