Spike Protein of SARS-CoV-2 Virus Alone Can Cause Damage to Lungs

Exposure to a segment of the viral spike protein induced COVID-19 like symptoms and caused lung damage similar to those with the disease.

A recent study conducted by investigators from the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics at Old Dominion University has found that exposure to the spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus has the potential to induce symptoms similar to COVID-19 and damage the lungs.

Results from the study are being presented at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics annual meeting, Experimental Biology 2021.

"Our findings show that the SARS-CoV2 spike protein causes lung injury even without the presence of intact virus," Pavel Solopoy, a research assistant professor at the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics at Old Dominion University said. "This previously unknown mechanism could cause symptoms before substantial viral replication occurs."

For the study, investigators injected genetically modified mice with a segment of the SARS-CoVC-2 spike protein, and another group of mice with saline. The team then analyzed the responses the mice had after 72 hours.

Findings from the study demonstrated that the mice who were injected with the spike protein developed symptoms associated with COVID-19, including severe inflammation, an influx of white blood cells into their lungs and evidence of a cytokine storm. The mice who only received the sale shot remained normal.

The team of investigators now plan on doing further research using their mouse model to study different drugs and how they impact lung injury and COVID-19.

"These findings show that the genetically modified mouse together with just a segment of the spike protein can be used to study SARS-CoV-2 lung injury," Solopov said. "We can use this tool to develop a better understanding of how the spike protein causes lung symptoms -- even without the intact virus -- in order to develop new targets and therapeutics for COVID-19."