TALLINN - With the participation of medical researchers from the University of Tartu, two research articles were recently published in Science, describing the mechanisms the coronavirus uses to infect cells and spread in tissues.
The findings provide new potential ways of preventing viral infection by the novel coronavirus, and clues as to why it is more infectious than other similar viruses.
Professor of nanomedicine of the University of Tartu Tambet Teesalu and his team members, senior research fellow of cancer biology Lorena Simon-Gracia and PhD student Allan Tobi are among the co-authors of the studies carried out by international research groups.
In the past, Teesalu has developed a system of so-called tumour homing peptides for targeted cancer treatment and participated in the clinical development of these peptides. Current studies show that COVID19-causing coronavirus uses similar peptides for infecting cells and spreading.
"The SARS-CoV-2 virus uses its spike protein to enter host cells. Now we know that in addition to the ACE 2 receptor, the spike protein binds to a second receptor called neuropilin on the host cells. This binding is mediated by a peptide on the spike that is similar to CendR peptides that we discovered in the past and are used to deliver cancer drugs into tumour tissues," Teesalu described.
The studies showed that preventing the virus from attaching to cells using CendR peptides can decrease the infection rate.
"This discovery opens a new possible path for the development of coronavirus drugs. Intriguingly, the CendR sequence is also present on the surface of other pathogenic viruses, such as Ebola and HIV-1. This research may have a far-reaching impact on the development of antiviral compounds," Teesalu said.