Why does COVID-19 impact only some organs, not others?

August 11, 2020

WASHINGTON, August 11, 2020 -- In severe cases of COVID-19, damage can spread beyond the lungs and into other organs, such as the heart, liver, kidney and parts of the neurological system. Beyond these specific sets of organs, however, the virus seems to lack impact.

Ernesto Estrada, from the University of Zaragoza and Agencia Aragonesa para la Investigación Foundation in Spain, aimed to uncover an explanation as to how it is possible for these damages to propagate selectively rather than affecting the entire body. He discusses his findings in the journal Chaos, from AIP Publishing.

In order to enter human cells, the coronavirus relies on interactions with an abundant protein called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2.

"This receptor is ubiquitous in most human organs, such that if the virus is circulating in the body, it can also enter into other organs and affect them," Estrada said. "However, the virus affects some organs selectively and not all, as expected from these potential mechanisms."

Once inside a human cell, the virus's proteins interact with those in the body, allowing for its effects to cultivate. COVID-19 damages only a subset of organs, signaling to Estrada that there must be a different pathway for its transmission. To uncover a plausible route, he considered the displacements of proteins prevalent in the lungs and how they interact with proteins in other organs.

"For two proteins to find each other and form an interaction complex, they need to move inside the cell in a subdiffusive way," Estrada said.

He described this subdiffusive motion as resembling a drunkard walking on a crowded street. The crowd presents obstacles to the drunkard, stunting displacement and making it difficult to reach the destination.

Similarly, proteins in a cell face several crowded obstacles they must overcome in order to interact. Adding to the complexity of the process, some proteins exist within the same cell or organ, but others do not.

Taking these into account, Estrada developed a mathematical model that allowed him to find a group of 59 proteins within the lungs that act as the primary activators affecting other human organs. A chain of interactions, beginning with this set, triggers changes in proteins down the line, ultimately impacting their health.

"Targeting some of these proteins in the lungs with existing drugs will prevent the perturbation of the proteins expressed in organs other than the lungs, avoiding multiorgan failure, which, in many cases, conduces the death of the patient," Estrada said.

How the affected proteins travel between organs remains an open question that Estrada is dedicating for future studies.
-end-
The article, "Fractional diffusion on the human proteome as an alternative to the multi-organ damage of SARS CoV-2," is authored by Ernesto Estrada. The article will appear in Chaos on Aug. 11, 2020 (DOI: 10.1063/5.0015626). After that date, it can be accessed at http://aip.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/5.0015626.

ABOUT THE JOURNAL

Chaos is devoted to increasing the understanding of nonlinear phenomena in all areas of science and engineering and describing their manifestations in a manner comprehensible to researchers from a broad spectrum of disciplines. See https://aip.scitation.org/journal/cha.

American Institute of Physics

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.