Coronavirus attacks fatty tissue, scientists say

From the start of the pandemic, the coronavirus appeared to target people carrying extra pounds. Overweight or obese patients were more...

From the start of the pandemic, the coronavirus appeared to target people carrying extra pounds. Overweight or obese patients were more likely to develop severe Covid-19 and more likely to die.

Although these patients often have health conditions like diabetes that worsen their risk, scientists are increasingly convinced that their vulnerability has something to do with obesity itself.

Now, researchers have found that the coronavirus infects both fat cells and certain immune cells in body fat, causing a damaging defensive response in the body.

“At the end of the day, ‘Oh my god indeed, the virus can directly infect fat cells,'” said Dr. Philipp Scherer, a scientist who studies fat cells at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who was not involved in the research. .

“Everything that goes in fat doesn’t stay in fat,” he added. “It also affects neighboring tissues. “

The research has not yet been peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal, but it has been put online in October. If the results hold true, they could shed light not only on why patients with extra pounds are vulnerable to the virus, but also why some younger adults without further risk get so sick.

Lead authors of the study, Dr Tracey McLaughlin and Dr Catherine Blish of Stanford University School of Medicine, suggested that the evidence could point to new Covid treatments that target body fat.

“It may be the Achilles heel that the virus uses to evade our protective immune responses – by hiding in this place,” said Dr Vishwa Deep Dixit, professor of comparative medicine and immunology at the Yale School of Medicine.

This finding is particularly relevant for the United States, which has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Most American adults are overweight and 42% are obese. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Alaska Natives in the United States have higher obesity rates than white adults and Asian Americans; they have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with death rates roughly double that of white Americans.

“It could well contribute to a serious illness”, Dr Blish said. “We are seeing the same inflammatory cytokines that I see in the blood of really sick patients being produced in response to infection of these tissues.”

Body fat was once thought to be inert, a form of storage. But scientists now know that the tissue is biologically active, producing hormones and immune system proteins that act on other cells, promoting a state of persistent low-grade inflammation even in the absence of infection.

Inflammation is the body’s response to an invader, and sometimes it can be so vigorous that it’s more harmful than the infection that started it. “The more fat mass, and especially visceral fat mass, the poorer your inflammatory response,” said Dr. McLaughlin, referring to abdominal fat that surrounds internal organs.

Adipose tissue is made up primarily of fat cells, or adipocytes. It also contains pre-adipocytes, which turn into fat cells, and a variety of immune cells, including a type called fatty tissue macrophages.

Dr McLaughlin, Dr Blish and their colleagues conducted experiments to see if fat tissue obtained from bariatric surgery patients could be infected with the coronavirus and followed the reaction of various types of cells.

The fat cells themselves could be infected, the scientists found, but did not become very inflamed. But certain immune cells called macrophages could also be infected and they have developed a robust inflammatory response.

Stranger still, the preadipocytes were not infected, but contributed to the inflammatory response. (Scientists haven’t examined whether particular variants are more destructive in this regard than others.)

The research team also obtained adipose tissue from the bodies of European patients who died from Covid and found the coronavirus in the fat near various organs.

The idea that fatty tissue could serve as a reservoir for pathogens is not new, Dr Dixit said. Body fat is known to harbor a number of them, including HIV and the flu virus.

The coronavirus appears to be able to escape the body fat’s immune defenses, which are limited and unable to fight it effectively. And in obese people, there can be a lot of body fat.

A man whose ideal weight is 170 pounds but weighs 250 pounds is carrying a substantial amount of fat in which the virus can “hang around”, replicate and trigger a destructive response in the immune system, said Dr. David Kass, professor of cardiology at Johns Hopkins.

“If you are very, very obese, fat is the largest organ in your body,” said Dr. Kass.

The coronavirus “can infect this tissue and actually reside there,” he said. “Whether it hurts him, kills him or at best, it’s a place to amplify, whatever. It becomes a kind of reservoir.

As the inflammatory response snowballs, cytokines trigger even more inflammation and the release of additional cytokines. “It’s like a perfect storm,” he said.

Dr Blish and colleagues hypothesized that infected body fat may even contribute to ‘long Covid’, a condition describing bothersome symptoms like fatigue that persist for weeks or months after recovering from an acute episode. .

The data also suggests that Covid vaccines and treatments may need to take the patient’s weight and fat stores into account.

“This article is yet another wake-up call for the medical profession and public health to take a more in-depth look at the issues facing overweight and obese people, and the treatments and vaccines we are giving them,” Barry said. Popkin, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has studied the increased risk Covid poses to obese people.

“We continue to document the risk they are at, but we are still not addressing it,” said Dr Popkin.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Coronavirus attacks fatty tissue, scientists say
Coronavirus attacks fatty tissue, scientists say
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