COVID-19 Virus Needs Cholesterol to Invade Cells – What This Means for People Taking Statins

  • Connexions
  • 2021-02-18
  • 1308

To cause COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus must force its way into people’s cells – and it needs an accomplice. Cholesterol, the waxy compound better known for clogging arteries, helps the virus open cells up and slip inside, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Clifford Brangwynne’s lab reports.

Without cholesterol, the virus cannot sneak past a cell’s protective barrier and cause infection, the team writes in a preprint posted to bioRxiv. The work, which recreated the early stage of infection in lab-grown cells, has not yet undergone the scientific vetting process of peer review.

“Cholesterol is an integral part of the membranes that surround cells and some viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. It makes sense that it should be so important for infection,” says Brangwynne, a biophysical engineer at Princeton University.

The finding might underlie the better health outcomes seen in COVID-19 patients taking cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, he adds. Although scientists haven’t yet established the mechanism responsible, this study and another published last fall suggest the drugs prevent SARS-CoV-2 from getting into cells by denying it cholesterol.

This discovery of cholesterol’s importance could help scientists develop new stopgap measures to treat COVID-19 until most people are vaccinated, Brangwynne says. The work may also shed light on a strange feature of the disease: the formation of giant, compound cells found in the lungs of COVID-19 patients. In their experiments, the scientists saw similar mega cells emerge under the microscope.

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