Seeking to understand why COVID-19 is able to suppress the body’s immune response, new research from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology suggests that mitochondria are one of the first lines of defense against COVID-19 and identifies key differences in how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 affects mitochondrial genes when compared to other viruses.
Pinchas Cohen, professor of gerontology, medicine and biological sciences and dean for the USC Leonard Davis School said “if you already have mitochondrial and metabolic dysfunction, then you may, as a result, have a poor first line of defense against COVID-19”. “We already knew that our immune response was not mounting a successful defense to COVID-19, but we didn’t know why,” said lead author Brendan Miller, a senior doctoral student at the USC Leonard David School. “What we did differently was we looked at how the virus specifically targets mitochondria, a cellular organelle that is a crucial part of the body’s innate immune system and energy production”.
Chief among their findings is that SARS-CoV-2 uniquely reduces the levels of a group of mitochondrial proteins known as Complex One, that are encoded by nuclear DNA. It is possible that this effect “quiets” the cell’s metabolic output and reactive oxygen species generation that when functioning correctly, produces an inflammatory response that can kill a virus. Not a lot we can do about this effect on our cells, but it is interesting and maybe in the future scientists and researchers will have a way to enhance these proteins to help in our fight against viral agents! In the meantime, stay the course, stay well, get vaccinated, mask up and stay tuned!