Hospital patients with Covid-19 show a certain gene variation much more often than people with mild courses. In particular, those affected with a partial or total lack of the NKG2C receptor fall seriously ill, the MedUni Vienna reported on Monday. “This part of the immune response could therefore also be an important target for drugs that could help prevent severe Covid 19 diseases,” said virologist Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl.
The antiviral immune response by natural killer cells (NK cells) is an important step in combating virus replication in the initial phase of the infection, was explained in the MedUni broadcast. The se killer cells have special, activating receptors on their surface. The se include the NKG2C receptor, which communicates with an infected cell via one of its specific surface structures, the HLA-E. This interaction leads to the destruction of the virus-infected cells.
NK cell response is important
Around four percent of the population lacks the activating receptor NKG2C due to a gene variation, while around 30 percent of the population only partially has the receptor. A research group from the MedUni Center for Virology, headed by Puchhammer-Stöckl, in cooperation with doctors from the Favoriten Clinic in Vienna, has shown that especially people with a partial or complete absence of the NKG2C receptor develop severe courses.
“ 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 Extent “, explained Puchhammer-Stöckl. The current study, which recently appeared in the journal “Genetics in Medicine”, therefore shows the great importance of the NK cell response in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 infection.