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Genetic changes post COVID-19 infection may explain long term side effects of virus

According to experts, the overall recovery from COVID-19 can take up to 14 days.

Many patients experience debilitating symptoms even after recovery from COVID-19. A new study claims to have identified the reasons for this.

According to studies, almost 69 per cent patients who recover from COVID-19 infection experience some long-term side effects. Scientists are trying to figure out why this happens. A Wuhan-based study in January 2021 had identified some of these side effects as fatigue, muscle weakness, reduced lung function and kidney problems. Many recovered patients are also at risk of reinfection. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is covered in tiny spike proteins. Now, according to a new study at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Centre in the US, this spike protein can bring about long-term gene expression changes. Researchers say that this can explain why some COVID-19 patients, referred to as Covid long-haulers, experience symptoms such as shortness of breath and dizziness long after clearing the infection.

Symptoms result from spike protein interaction with cells

During an infection, the spike proteins bind with receptors on cells in our body, starting a process by which the virus releases its genetic material into the inside of the healthy cell. According to researchers, exposure to the COVID-19 spike protein alone was enough to change baseline gene expression in airway cells. They say that this suggests that symptoms seen in patients may initially result from the spike protein interacting with the cells directly.

Genes related to inflammatory response most effected

For the study, the researchers optimised a previously developed culturing approach known as the air-liquid interface technique, which involved exposing cells to air and then giving them time to mature into airway cells. The team found that cultured human airway cells exposed to both low and high concentrations of purified spike protein showed differences in gene expression that remained even after the cells recovered from the exposure. The top genes included ones related to inflammatory response.

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Researchers say that this study helps to elucidate changes occurring in patients on the genetic level, which could eventually provide insight into which treatments would work best for specific patients. This will lead to the development of better treatment procedures and ultimately comfort of recovered patients.

(With inputs from IANS)

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