University of Arizona Professor Floyd (Ski) Chilton, Ph.D., has been studying an enzyme related to rattlesnake venom for 30 years or more. Now, he has evidence that the enzyme could drive severe forms of COVID-19.
Chilton’s team worked with researchers at Stony Brook University and Wake Forest University School of Medicine to study blood samples from 281 COVID patients. They discovered that levels of the enzyme secreted phospholipase it could predict which patients were likely to give in to the disease, they reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The enzyme is similar to an enzyme in rattlesnake venom that can bind to receptors in muscles and paralyze them. In people, sPLA2-IIA normally occurs at low levels and is totally safe in fact, it actually protects against infections by destroying the cell membranes of microbes. But in high amounts, it could destroy vital organs.
It's a bell-shaped curve of disease resistance versus host tolerance. In other words, this enzyme is trying to kill the virus, but at a certain point it is released in such high amounts that things head in a really bad direction, destroying the patient's cell membranes and thereby contributing to multiple organ failures and death."- Chilton
The protein "shares a high sequence homology to the active enzyme in rattlesnake venom and, it has the capacity to bind to receptors at neuromuscular junctions and potentially disable the function of these muscles," Chilton described. Although the current study can’t determine causal factors, further studies considering how this particular enzyme is activated will provide valuable information for possible future treatments.