Study Shows COVID-19 Could Change Genes In Human Airway Cells ‘Long-Term’

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A new study found that a COVID-19 infection could cause changes to genes in the human airway, which could help explain those who suffer from long-term coronavirus symptoms.

Spike proteins that cover the virus that causes COVID-19 bind to receptor cells in the body and release genetic material into the healthy cell. Researchers found that exposure to spike proteins changed the gene expression in human airway cells, and those changes persisted even after the cells had recovered, according to a Tuesday press release.

Cells related to inflammatory response were among those that were changed, which could explain why some people experienced long-term coronavirus symptoms like shortness of breath and dizziness even after recovering from the virus. (RELATED: 53% Of Patients With Strong COVID-19 Infection Are Asymptomatic, UK Government Says)

“We found that exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein alone was enough to change baseline gene expression in airway cells,” said Nicholas Evans, a master’s student at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. “This suggests that symptoms seen in patients may initially result from the spike protein interacting with the cells directly.”

Evans said that the study could help identify which treatments would work best for coronavirus patients.

“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,” he said.

Coronavirus cases and deaths have fallen nationwide as more Americans receive the vaccine, which experts say is highly effective at preventing infections. Some states have eliminated their mask mandates entirely, and the CDC recently updated its guidance on masks to indicate that fully vaccinated people can participate in small outdoor gatherings without a mask.