BREAKING COVID-19 News! Israeli And American Study Shows Epigenetic Changes Occurring With Elevated A-to-I RNA Editing In COVID-19 Infected Individuals!
: In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, researchers worldwide are tirelessly working to unravel the mysteries surrounding the disease's development and its intricate impact on the human body. A recent study conducted by a collaborative team from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, USA, Weill Cornell Medicine in the USA, The Rockefeller University in the USA, and Tel-Aviv University in Israel has shed light on a fascinating aspect of COVID-19: epigenetic changes occurring with elevated A-to-I RNA editing in infected individuals.
Epigenetics, the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence, has emerged as a critical area of research in understanding how the SARS-CoV-2 virus interacts with its host.
Adenosine (A) to Inosine (I) RNA editing is one such epigenetic phenomenon, orchestrated by a family of enzymes known as ADAR. This process plays a crucial role in the host's innate immune response. Prior studies have demonstrated that various viruses can manipulate these ADAR enzymes, leading to epigenetic changes in both the virus and the host.
In this comprehensive analysis, the researchers examined RNA sequencing data from nasopharyngeal swab specimens and whole-blood samples of COVID-19-infected individuals. Their findings as covered in this COVID-19 News
report, revealed a significant increase in global RNA editing activity in COVID-19 patients compared to healthy controls.
Moreover, they pinpointed specific coding sites exhibiting heightened editing activity. Intriguingly, this surge in editing activity was temporary, returning to baseline shortly after the symptomatic period. These remarkable epigenetic changes may play a crucial role in the immune system's response to the virus and could be associated with the adverse outcomes observed in post-viral cases.
COVID-19, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has been responsible for a global pandemic that has affected millions of people. This contagious disease primarily targets the respiratory system, causing a range of symptoms from mild to severe. In severe cases, COVID-19 can lead to multi-organ failure and, in some instances, even death. The severity of the disease is directly linked to the host's immune response, characterized by the cytokine storm - a surge in pro-inflammatory cytokines. Understanding the factors that influence the immune response is of utmost importance in combating this pandemic.
The Role of RNA Editing in the Immune Response
RNA editing, specifically A-to-I RNA editing, is a critical mechanism for modifying RNA molecules in the transcriptome. In humans, this process is primarily mediated by the ADAR family of enzymes, with ADAR1 being the predominant contributor.
ADAR1's role in RNA editing is to protect the host cell against activation of the dsRNA sensor Melanoma Differentiation-Associated Protein 5 (MDA5), which typically recognizes long dsRNA structures associated with vi
ruses. Proper ADAR1 editing is essential for preventing the immune system from erroneously attacking the host's own cells. Loss of ADAR1 function can lead to cell death and is associated with disorders such as Aicardi-Goutières syndrome, characterized by dysregulation of interferon-I (IFN-I) activity.
The target of ADAR enzymes is long dsRNA duplexes. In humans, the majority of recognizable editing sites are found in Alu repeats, which are short interspersed DNA elements (SINEs). Alu elements are abundant in the human genome and are often transcribed alongside a similar inversed copy, forming dsRNA structures. It is worth noting that cytoplasmic ADARp150, which is induced by IFN, is primarily responsible for editing viral RNA genomes. This highlights the link between IFN and ADAR enzymes in the host's defense mechanism against viruses.
Viral RNA Editing and Its Implications
Viruses that contain dsRNA structures during their life cycle can potentially undergo RNA editing events mediated by ADAR enzymes. This phenomenon has been observed in various viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. As viruses overexpress host ADAR enzymes, it is plausible that increased RNA editing of the human transcriptome occurs, leading to uncontrolled epigenetic modifications.
Elevated RNA Editing in COVID-19
In this groundbreaking study, researchers examined A-to-I RNA editing patterns in COVID-19-infected individuals to understand the effect of SARS-CoV-2 on host RNA editing. Using multiple computational approaches and diverse RNA-seq datasets, they observed a substantial increase in editing levels during the disease.
The study analyzed RNA sequencing data from nasopharyngeal swab specimens and whole-blood samples of COVID-19 patients, comparing them to healthy controls. The researchers calculated the Alu editing index (AEI) for each individual, which measures the global rate of editing in Alu repeats. Significantly, the COVID-19 group exhibited a higher AEI compared to the control group, with the differences being more prominent in the nasal swab datasets. This indicates that the upper respiratory epithelium is directly affected by the virus. Notably, sex and age did not correlate with AEI levels, highlighting that these factors do not influence editing levels.
Elevated RNA Editing in Coding Sites
While the majority of RNA editing activity occurs in Alu elements, the study also examined editing in coding regions, which can potentially impact protein products. The researchers identified 17 sites with significant editing differences between COVID-19 patients and controls, all of which exhibited higher editing levels in the COVID-19 group. Thirteen of these sites resulted in non-synonymous or stoploss mutations, with some sites located in genes related to immune regulation and signaling.
Transient Increase in Editing Activity
The researchers also investigated the long-term impact of COVID-19 on global RNA editing levels. They found that the increase in editing levels observed during the disease was temporary, returning to baseline about three weeks post-infection.
The study's findings provide valuable insights into the link between COVID-19 and elevated A-to-I RNA editing activity in the host. It is well-documented that viruses can interact with host ADAR enzymes, resulting in RNA editing of the viral genome. However, this research highlights the reciprocal effect – viruses can also cause modifications in the host's RNA sequence. The study contradicts a previous report by Crooke et al., suggesting that differences in analysis techniques may explain the contrasting findings.
A past research also aligns with the current study, showing increased ADAR1 isoform expression in SARS-CoV-2-infected cells. However, the current research takes a more comprehensive approach by examining samples from infected individuals and identifying editing activity in both direct and indirect (blood) cells. This reinforces the substantial impact of COVID-19 on host RNA editing.
Epigenetic Modifications and Their Implications
Epigenetic modifications caused by viral-induced RNA editing can have profound implications. Even minimal editing in coding sites may influence gene expression or function, potentially leading to long-term outcomes. Understanding the role of RNA editing in the immune response is vital for developing effective treatments and therapeutic strategies for COVID-19. The study suggests that the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 is robust, with the IFN-MDA5 pathway playing a crucial role. The findings indicate that this pathway is more pronounced during COVID-19 compared to other viral infections.
The study's results demonstrate that COVID-19 infection leads to significantly higher global A-to-I RNA editing levels in the host, affecting not only Alu repeats but also coding sites. These epigenetic changes are presumed to contribute to the complexity of the immune system's response during the disease and may be associated with adverse outcomes observed in post-viral cases. Further research is needed to fully understand the implications of these epigenetic modifications and their role in the pathogenesis of COVID-19. This knowledge is critical for the development of effective treatments and therapies to combat this devastating pandemic.
The study findings were published in the peer reviewed journal: Genomics and Bioinformatics.
For the latest COVID-19 News,
keep on logging to Thailand Medical News.