Fool the novel coronavirus once and it can’t cause infection of cells, new research suggests.
Scientists have developed protein fragments—called peptides—that fit snugly into a groove on the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein that it would normally use to access a host cell. These peptides effectively trick the virus into “shaking hands” with a replica rather than with the actual protein on a cell’s surface that lets the virus in.
Previous research had determined that the novel coronavirus binds to a receptor protein on a target cell’s surface called ACE2. This receptor is located on certain types of human cells in the lung and nasal cavity, providing SARS-CoV-2 many access points to infect the body.
For this work, Ohio State University scientists designed and tested peptides that resemble ACE2 enough to convince the coronavirus to bind to them, an action that blocks the virus’s ability to actually get inside the cell.
“Our goal is that any time SARS-CoV-2 comes into contact with the peptides, the virus will be inactivated. This is because the virus Spike protein is already bound to something that it needs to use in order to bind to the cell,” said Amit Sharma, co-lead author of the study and assistant professor of veterinary biosciences at Ohio State. “To do this, we have to get to the virus while it’s still outside the cell.”