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Absence of NK cell receptors may be linked to severe cases of Covid-19

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Researchers at the Virology Center at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, found a relationship between the absence of natural killer cell receptors, known as NK cells, and the occurrence of severe cases of Covid-19.

According to the research, which was published in the scientific journal Genetics in Medicine, who needed to be hospitalized with Covid-19, in general, was more likely to exhibit a genetic variation that causes the lack of NKG2C receptors, which help to fight viral infections.


NKG2Cs communicate with infected cells through one of their specialized surface structures, HLA-E. This interaction results in the destruction of infected cells.

However, some people have a natural deficiency in these receptors. This failure is due to a genetic variation that is found in about 4% of the population, which does not have these receptors, in addition, another 30% have only a small portion of them.

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“The absence of the receptor was particularly prevalent in Covid-19 patients being treated in intensive care units, regardless of age or sex. Genetic variations in the infected cell’s HLA-E have also been linked to the severity of the disease, albeit to a lesser extent, ”said Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl, study leader.

Exterminating cells are important in fighting viral infections. Credit: Arquivo / UFRGS

What are NK cells?

The name NK cells comes from the acronym in English for Natural Killers, or natural exterminators, in free translation. They are lymphocytes necessary for the innate immune system to function satisfactorily.


NK cells are important in the fight against viral infections and also in the fight against different cancer cell lines, since they have a cytotoxic activity that allows to fight these cells without prior knowledge, different from T lymphocytes.

The discovery by the Puchhammer-Stöckl team is important because it demonstrates the importance of NK cells in the fight against Covid-19 and can also be useful in the search for drugs that are effective in preventing severe cases of the disease.

Via: Medical Xpress

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