Many viral infections cause seriousdamage to human organs. We know this well from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, which damages the lungs. The same goes for influenza viruses. After recovery, damaged tissues usually recover, which means that the organs should work as before. But in practice this is not always the case. For example, after the aforementioned viruses, the lungs are not fully restored. Instead of damaged pulmonary alveoli, other tissues characteristic of the upper respiratory tract appear in the lungs. They, of course, cannot perform a gas exchange function. Therefore, the body copes worse with the enrichment of blood with oxygen and the removal of carbon dioxide. Accordingly, even after recovery, a person experiences breathing problems. But scientists seem to have finally found a way to solve this problem.
Lungs can recover
After some infections with human organs,in fact, the same thing happens as with the heart after a heart attack, when connective tissue instead of muscle appears at the site of damage. She, as you know, is not able to contract. That is, in the damaged organs, during their restoration, there are simply “patches” that are not capable of performing any functions. In the case of the lungs, these “patches” are the basal cells.
However, according to researchers fromUniversity of Pennsylvania, basal cells are able to turn into alveoli, that is, gas exchange cells. Of course, this process does not occur by itself, but only in the presence of certain incentives. In a recent study published in the journal Cell Reports, scientists were able to get basal cells to transform into gas-exchange cells, but so far only in the lungs of mice. However, this technology may well be used to treat people.
How to restore lung cells
Why in the lungs after viral damageTissues that are unable to produce gas exchange arise? The thing is that they simply “do not know” that they need to perform this task. That is, the cells initially receive the wrong specification. A special protein called p63 is to blame for this.
This protein is found in a wide variety of animal tissues.and a person. Its task is to help young cells correctly determine their specification. Therefore, the researchers hypothesized that the p63 gene "blocks" the basal cells so that they take on the characteristics of the upper respiratory tract. And if this block is removed, then the basal cells can be more flexible, which will allow them to turn into alveolar cells.
As a result, scientists turned off in basal cellsp63 gene. As expected, the basal cells then began to receive signals from the surrounding alveolar cells. That is, those cells that provide gas exchange. And in the end, they themselves began to transform into alviolar cells, as if they were prompted by the correct specialization.
Эксперименты проводились как на клеточных cultures grown in laboratory conditions, and on live rodents whose lungs were damaged after a viral infection. The former basal cells, transformed into alviolar ones, were absolutely identical to the cells around them. In particular, they have lost the tendency to “crawl” from place to place, which is characteristic of the basal cells that form among the alveoli. According to the scientists themselves, they could only be distinguished by special markers.
Can scientists treat long covid?
It is quite possible that scientists will succeed in the near futureit's time to create a drug that will allow you to turn off the p63 gene in basal cells. However, it should be borne in mind that such therapy only works in recovering lungs that have already suffered an infection and are “overgrown” with basal cells. That is, it will not be possible to restore damaged lungs directly during the infection itself. But on the other hand, it will allow us to fight long-term COVID.
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That is, therapy developed on the basis of thisresearch may be especially valuable in the months following a patient's recovery from the coronavirus, as it will allow full recovery of respiratory function. By the way, a long flu also happens, as we have already talked about. But, unfortunately, lung therapy will not help to completely rid patients of the symptoms of long covid and flu, since these syndromes are caused by many reasons, and lung damage is only one of them.