According to a research, individuals infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus may experience modifications to their genome composition that may account for their immune-related symptoms and risk of long COVID.
Chromatin is a component of our cells that houses the genetic information. Other types of viruses have been known to alter or hijack our chromatin in order to effectively reproduce in our cells.
It was unknown if and how SARS-CoV-2 might impact our chromosomes.
The chromatin architecture in human cells following a COVID-19 infection was thoroughly characterized in the most recent research, which was published in the journal Nature Microbiology.
“We found that many well-formed chromatin architectures of a normal cell become de-organised after infection,” said Wenbo Li, senior author on the study and associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, US.
“For example, there is one type of chromatin architecture termed A/B compartments that can be analogous to the yin and yang portions of our chromatin. After SARS-CoV-2 infection, we found that the yin and yang portions of the chromatin lose their normal shapes and start to mix together,” Li said.
Interleukin-6, a critical gene for inflammation that can lead to cytokine storm in patients with significant COVID-19, was one of several important genes that changed as a result of this mixing, according to the researchers.
A cytokine storm is a severe immune response in which the body rapidly produces an excessive amount of cytokines into the blood. Although cytokines are crucial for healthy immune reactions, an abrupt increase in their production can be dangerous.
The research discovered that SARS-CoV-2 also changed the chemical modifications on chromatin.
“The changes of chemical modifications of chromatin were known to exert long-term effects on gene expression and phenotypes,” added Xiaoyi Yuan, who contributed to the research.
“Therefore, our finding may provide an unrealised new perspective to understand the viral impacts on host chromatin that can be associated with long COVID,” said Yuan. The expectation is that these results will open up new avenues for investigation into the virus’s long-term effects.
“This study elucidated to us how SARS-CoV-2 can uniquely alter our chromatin to cause COVID-19 symptoms. Future work will focus on understanding the mechanisms of how SARS-CoV-2 can achieve this,” Li added.