In a preliminary study, scientists believe they have identified why heart damage is so common among patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
A new study has shown that SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus the spike protein is able to cause damage to the heart muscle through an inflammatory process, which distinguishes it from previously known coronaviruses.
The good news is that preliminary research suggests that the damage caused by the process, which is part of the heart muscle cells’ “own natural immune mechanism,” can be reduced by vaccination.
A study published in 2020 was found abnormal changes in the work of the heart in 55% of hospitalized patients, with approximately one in seven showing signs of serious dysfunction.
“This is already known from the clinical side COVID-19 The infection can cause heart damage, but we don’t know the details of the mechanism of how this happens,” said Dr. Zhitian Lin.
“What we suspect is that the spike protein has an unknown pathological role,” added Dr. Lin, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Masonic Medical Research Institute in Utica, New York.
“Our data show that a protein spike from SARS-CoV-2 causes heart muscle damage. That’s why it’s important to vaccinate and prevent this disease,” added Dr. Lin.
The first line of defense against the invasion of SARS-CoV-2 is natural immunity, and heart muscle cells have their own immune mechanism, but in the case of infection with COVID-19, the immune response “can also impair the function of heart muscle cells and even lead to cell death and heart failure,” said Dr. Lin.
They studied another coronavirus, known as HCoV-NL63, which has a similar adhesion protein that also binds to the cell’s ACE2 receptor to help the virus enter cells.
But unlike SARS-CoV-2, the spike protein NL63 does not trigger a natural immune response in heart muscle cells that can cause major damage to the organ.
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“The fact that the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 activates the natural immune response may explain the high virulence compared to other coronaviruses,” said Dr. Lin.
When testing heart cells cultured in a dish in the laboratory, the researchers noticed how the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein made heart muscle cells significantly larger compared to cells without the spike protein.
“We found direct evidence that the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 is toxic to heart muscle cells,” explained Dr. Lin.
But the researchers caution that the mechanisms they have uncovered for how the virus causes harm may not be the full picture — and that there are still questions to be answered.