A group of Brazilian researchers identified one of the factors that increases the contagion potential of the British strain of covid-19, which is 70% more infectious than other variants, reported on Tuesday the Foundation for Research Support in the State of Sao Paulo (Fapesp).
Brazilian researchers found that the spike protein of the new strain, which is the one that forms the structure of the corona that gives the name to the coronavirus family, has a greater force of molecular interaction with the ACE2 receptor, present on the surface of human cells and with which the SARS-CoV -2 connects to start the infection.
“The increase in the molecular interaction force of the new lineage is caused by a mutation already identified at amino acid residue 501 of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein called N501Y, which gave rise to the new variant of the virus, “explained Fapesp in a note published on its website.
The discovery was made by researchers from the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in a study funded by Fapesp and whose results were published on Tuesday on the international scientific platform bioRxiv in an article that not yet reviewed by other scientists.
The so-called British variant, baptized as B.1.1.7, It has already been registered in a score of countries -including two cases in Brazil- and it is characterized by a mutation that affects the way in which the virus attaches itself to human cells, which makes it much more contagious. “We found that the interaction between the spike protein of the new strain with the N501Y mutation is much greater than that presented by the first lineage of the virus that was isolated in Wuhan (China),” said Geraldo Aleixo Passos, researcher at USP and one of those responsible for the study.
“There are other mutations in the genome of the new lineage that we did not analyze. We focused on N501Y because it is involved in the connection of the spike protein with ACE2,” added Passos.
To confirm their hypothesis, the researchers conducted tests with structures of the spike protein of the coronavirus isolated in Wuhan and with those of the present one in the British strain, as well as analysis with the PyMOL public domain software.
“The results of the analyzes showed that the mutation in the protein of the new variant establishes a greater interaction with the ACE2 receptor compared to the strain isolated in Wuhan,” explained Fapesp.
The British strain of the coronavirus in Spain. Carlos Gamez
“The sum of several weak connections between the mutant spike protein and the human ACE2 receptor resulted in stronger molecular interactions, which allow the virus to penetrate cells more easily and deflagrate the replication system, “said Passos.
The study also revealed that the N501Y mutation causes an alteration in the distribution of the spaces between the amino acid residues of the spike protein, which allows it a greater interaction with receptors in the human cell.
Does not make it more serious
Although it has generated alarm in countries such as the United Kingdom due to its high contagion capacity, so far there is no evidence that the British strain causes more severe cases of the disease, which increases the mortality rate of the virus or is resistant to existing vaccines.
Brazil, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic, last week identified its first two infected with the British strain.
Brazil is the second country with the most deaths from covid-19 in the world after the United States, with nearly 200,000 deaths, and the third with the most cases after the United States and India, with almost 7.8 million infections.
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