Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have determined that SARS-CoV-2 cannot infect cells without the heparan sulfate molecule, which is located on the surface of lung cells and acts as a receptor for the penetration of coronavirus inside. A new way to defeat the pathogen is reported in an article published in the journal Cell.
It is known that SARS-CoV-2 possesses a spike protein (S-protein) that binds to the ACE2 cellular receptor. Heparan sulfate acts as a coreceptor, that is, the virus must additionally bind to this molecule in order to infect the cell. Scientists have shown that the ability of the virus to infect is reduced by 80-90 percent if heparan sulfate is removed using enzymes. In addition, heparin can be effectively used as bait to bind the coronavirus away from human cells.
According to the researchers, the findings will help develop new drugs to fight the coronavirus. However, this still requires testing heparin and heparan sulfate inhibitors in animal models infected with SARS-CoV-2.