Can Long Covid Change Your Genetics?

Can Long Covid Change Your Genetics

The question on everyone's mind regarding COVID-19 today is 'Can Long Covid Change Your Genetics'?

Covid-19, as if it was not enough, yet some Covid-19 survivors experience 'long COVID'. Long covid can go by post-covid symptoms, long-tail covid, or post-acute covid. Simply put, long covid occurs when people experience continued COVID-19 symptoms that extend beyond their initial contraction of SARS-CoV-2 and recovery of the infection.

Most often, COVID-19 survivors will recover from their COVID-19 infection within 14 days. However, empirical data has found that COVID patients, regardless of mild or severe symptoms, may experience extended symptoms lasting, on average, up to 2 months.

A preprint 2020 study found that long COVID is more likely to occur in older adults, people with a higher body mass index (BMI), and females, by using a statistical model.

[This article is part of the developing coronavirus coverage and may become outdated in view of new information. Go here for the latest on the coronavirus.]

As Malaysia continues to battle against COVID-19, Kamache Doray Rajoo, a 51-year-old woman, and Sabai state assemblywoman from Pahang, was unfortunately infected by COVID-19 in January 2021. 

In March,  she shares with CodeBlue that she was still suffering from breathing difficulties, fatigue, and weakness, nearly two months after she recovered from the acute phase of Covid-19 –  the disease still has her reeling.

After spending 10 days in Hospital Bentong being treated for COVID-19 and experiencing mild symptoms, Kamache, who is also asthmatic, was discharged on January 12. “It has been almost two months since I have recovered from Covid-19, but my rollercoaster ride in the battle of Covid-19 still hasn’t come to an end," she shared.

More than 2 months after her infection, Kamachi suffers from stronger asthmatic attacks than before and severe cough often leading to vomiting.

“I am somehow reminding myself to keep fighting with my post-Covid-19 syndromes until today. I am still suffering every single day to breathe. I couldn’t carry out my duties as usual. I get tired very fast and my body is weak. This has never happened to me before,” shared Kamachi. She is what researchers and scientists refer to as long covid carriers, a condition that has recently become of significant importance relating to the post-impact of COVID-19 on an individual. 

Research on gene expression relating to COVID-19 and its long-term impact

New early-stage research from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center suggests why some people like Kamachi experience long covid symptoms after recovering from their COVID infection. 

Nicholas Evans, a graduate student at the University, and colleagues were tasked with the investigation of long covid, which led them to create a cell line model of COVID-19 to study genetic changes related to infection.

They used an air-liquid interface cell culture technique, where one side of the human primary bronchial epithelial cells is attached to media and the other side exposed to air, to simulate the inside of the lungs. The cells were exposed to recombinant spike protein from SARS-CoV-2 for several hours and then allowed time to ‘recover’ from the exposure for 48 hours. The team analyzed the gene expressions in the cell to evaluate the impact of exposure to the spike protein. 

“We found that exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein alone was enough to change baseline gene expression in airway cells,” said Evans who is based in the laboratory of Sharilyn Almodovar, Ph.D., at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

The study, which was presented to the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, has yet to be peer-reviewed or published, but its preliminary results suggest that"SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is enough to change the baseline protein expression in primary human primary bronchial epithelial cells. After recovery, genes related to immune response retained changes in gene expression, and these may indicate relevant long-term effects in asymptomatic patients.”

The finding suggests why some people like Kamache experience symptoms long after clearing the infection.

A rapidly spreading virus

The coronavirus that causes SARS-CoV-2 is covered in tiny spike proteins that bind with receptors on cells, starting a process that allows the virus to release its genetic material into healthy cells, which is often found in the RNA by test just as the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). The virus has a spike (S) glycoprotein, which binds to the receptor on the host cell. This causes activation of the S protein by the cleavage of the host cell protease.

As SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus. Unlike DNA replication, RNA can replicate much faster. It is because of this RNA replication of the coronavirus in various host bodies, that random mutation can occur. 

As seen through the various mutation, the coronavirus's ability to mutate, similar to influenza, will be a long-term problem, which means COVID-19 may not be going away any time soon. 

Where gene alteration occurs

The researchers at Texas Tech found that cultured human airway cells exposed to high and low concentrations of purified spike protein showed differences in gene expression that remained even after cells recovered.

“Our work helps to elucidate changes occurring in patients on the genetic level, which could eventually provide insight into which treatments would work best for specific patients,” Evans said.

Kamache, whose 19-year old son, who also tested positive for the coronavirus on January 2, has resumed his normal life now, after being unable to recognize or taste food for more than six weeks, said “I wasn’t aware of long Covid until I was sick again after my recovery from Covid-19." Kamache said.

These findings from the Texas study will help researchers, including our own research facility, understand the pathophysiology of SARS-CoV-2 better and the post-covid symptom syndrome as we work towards adopting booster vaccinations, TCM alternatives, and other relevant treatments to treat COVID-19 and its long term effects. 

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