SARS-CoV-2 uses a second secret doorway into cells

When it comes to how the coronavirus invades a cell, it takes three to tango. The dance began with the ACE2 receptor, a protein on human cells that allows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to enter and infect the cell. But now enter a new dance partner – another protein – that is present on human cells. This tango of three proteins – two human and one viral – enhances the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to enter human cells, replicate and cause disease.

COVID-19 has crippled health care systems and economies worldwide. Extraordinary efforts are underway to develop vaccines and other therapies to combat this virus. But for these efforts to succeed, understanding how the virus enters cells is critical. To that end, in two papers published in Science, two teams independently discovered that a protein called the neuropilin-1 receptor is an alternative doorway for SARS-CoV-2 to enter and infect human cells. This is a major breakthrough and a surprise, because scientists thought neuropilin-1 played roles in helping neurons make the correct connections and aiding the growth of blood vessels. Before this new research, no one suspected that neuropilin-1 could be a door for SARS-CoV-2 to enter the nervous system.

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