Researchers at the Osaka University, Japan, have found a relation between SARS-CoV-2 and IGF 1 gene (Insulin-like Growth Factor), the gene that regulates blood sugar metabolism in the body. Any irregularities or mutations in the gene can cause diabetes. The Covid-19 virus is known for its effects on the respiratory system, but it can harm other organs also. However, the exact pathway of causing an infection is unknown. SARS-CoV-2 activates the IRF1 gene or Interferon Regulatory Factor (immune response generating gene) and impairs IGF/insulin signalling in the pancreatic cells, liver, lungs and adipose tissues. Insulin signalling is a biochemical pathway in which insulin increases glucose absorption in body cells.
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“The insulin/IGF signalling pathway is a key pathway in the regulation of energy metabolism and cell survival,” said Jihoon Shin, the study’s first author. “Therefore, we suspected that SARS-CoV-2 affects this signalling pathway to cause problems with blood sugar regulation.”
Researchers evaluated over or under-expressed genes from the patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 and compared them with uninfected cells.
“The results were striking,” said Iichiro Shimomura, senior author of the study. “Infection with SARS-CoV-2 affected the expression of insulin/IGF signalling pathway components in the lung, liver, adipose tissue, and pancreatic cells. Moreover, these changes were attributed in part to activation of interferon regulatory factor 1 (IRF1).”
Further experiments showed that the IRF1 element was higher in men, old age patients, obese people and patients with diabetes. Individuals of having male sex, obesity, old age and diabetes were severely affected by SARS-CoV-2. In these cases, IRF1 occurs at an increased level which makes patients more prone to Covid-19. Additionally, critical Covid patients had higher IRF1 expression and low insulin signalling pathways in their blood compared to non-critical patients. Researchers treated the infected Covid cells with hormonal factors and found decreased levels of IRF1 expressions and increased insulin/IGF signalling.
“Our findings suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infection impairs insulin/IGF signalling by increasing IRF1 expression, thereby disrupting blood sugar metabolism. Decreasing IRF1 expression by treatment with factors such as dihydrotestosterone and dexamethasone could help mitigate the effects of COVID-19,” said Shin.
Knowing the impact of Covid-19 on different organs and how it hinders blood sugar levels, treatment options resulting in low IRF1 expression can help combat the condition. Identifying people prone to this condition and providing them with timely treatment can help avoid serious consequences of Covid in vulnerable populations.
The research has been published in the journal Metabolism.
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