Vienna (OTS) – The interaction between the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the human immune system has a significant impact on the course and severity of the COVID-19 disease in individual patients. The antiviral immune response by natural killer cells (NK cells) is usually an important step in fighting virus replication in the initial phase of the infection. The se killer cells have special, activating receptors on their surface, including the NKG2C receptor, which communicates with an infected cell via one of their specific surface structures, the HLA-E. This interaction leads to the destruction of the virus-infected cells. However, the activating receptor NKG2C is naturally absent in around 4% of the population due to a gene variation; in around 30 percent of the population the receptor is only partially present.
A research group from the Center for Virology at the Medical University of Vienna, headed by Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl, has now shown, in cooperation with doctors from the Favoriten Clinic, that especially people with a partial or complete absence of the NKG2C receptor have severe courses of COVID- 19 develop.
In their study, which was recently published in the journal “Genetics in Medicine”, the authors show that people who had to be hospitalized with COVID-19 were significantly more likely to have the gene variation underlying the lack of the receptor than people with mild courses. Puchhammer-Stöckl: “
The lack of the receptor was particularly common in patients who had to be treated with COVID-19 in intensive care units, regardless of age or gender. Genetic variations in the HLA-E of the infected cell were also associated with the severity of the disease, albeit to a lesser extent. ”
The current study therefore shows the great importance of the NK cell response in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 infection: “This part of the immune response could therefore also be an important target for drugs that could help treat severe COVID-19 – Preventing diseases, ”explains the MedUni Vienna expert.
Service: Genetics in Medicine
Deletion of the NKG2C receptor encoding KLRC2 gene and HLA-E variants are risk factors for severe COVID-19. Vietzen H, Zoufaly A, Traugott M, Aberle J, Aberle SW, Puchhammer-Stöckl E. Genet Med. 2021 Jan 26:1-5. doi: 10.1038/s41436-020-01077-7. Online ahead of print. PMID: 33500568 Free PMC article.
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