Researchers look at natural agent as promising therapy for novel coronavirus
A lipid found in the human body could be used to prevent or treat infections with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), according to new research published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
That lipid, called sphingosine, is a natural element taken from the body and is important in the lipid metabolism of all cells and the local immune defense in epithelial cells, a type of cell that lines the surfaces of the body including skin, blood vessels, urinary tract, and organs. They serve as a barrier between the inside and outside of the body and protect it from viruses, according to the study.
For the study, researchers analyzed the use of this lipid in regulating infection in cultured human cells with SARS-CoV-2 particles added.
"We showed that sphingosine prevented cellular infection in these cultures, and pretreatment of cultured cells or freshly obtained human nasal epithelial cells with low concentrations of sphingosine prevented adhesion of and infection with the virus," said Erich Gulbins, MD, corresponding author and a visiting professor in the University of Cincinnati Department of Surgery, in a statement. "These findings indicate that sphingosine prevents at least some viral infection by interfering with the interaction of the virus with its receptor.”
Sphingosine has been shown in past studies to prevent and eliminate bacterial infections of the respiratory tract, but it is unknown if it can be used to prevent viral infections. The coronavirus needs to bind to specific molecules on the surface of human cells as a prerequisite to infect them, Gulbins said. The researchers show that the lipid sphingosine binds into the receptor ACE2 for SARS-CoV-2 and thereby prevents binding of the virus to and infection of human cells.
Gulbins said the research showed that sphingosine prevented cellular infection in these cultures, and pretreatment of cultured cells or freshly obtained human nasal epithelial cells with low concentrations of sphingosine prevented adhesion of and infection with the virus. Sphingosine could potentially be used as a nasal spray to prevent or treat infections with SARS-CoV-2.
“The nasal spray must be developed, but sphingosine is a natural product,” he said. “More research is needed to see if this could be a treatment for COVID-19."