A team of Israeli experts has solved the mystery of which proteins in the SARS-CoV-2 virus are responsible for severe vascular damage in Covid-19 patients.

The novel coronavirus is made up of 29 proteins. Five of those proteins were identified as damaging to blood vessels in a study led by Tel Aviv University researchers Ben Maoz (biomedical engineering and neuroscience), Prof. Uri Ashery (life sciences and neuroscience) and Prof. Roded Sharan (computer science).

“We see a very high incidence of vascular disease and blood clotting, for example stroke and heart attack, among Covid patients,” said Maoz.

“We tend to think of Covid as primarily a respiratory disease, but the truth is that coronavirus patients are up to three times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack,” he explained.

Dr. Ben Maoz of Tel Aviv University. Photo courtesy of Tel Aviv University

“All the evidence shows that the virus severely damages the blood vessels or the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. We wanted to find out which proteins in the virus are responsible for this type of damage.”

Also participating in the study were Rossana Rauti, Yael Bardoogo, and Meishar Shahoah of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Yaakov Nahmias of the Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University. The results were published in the journal eLife.

“Our research could help find targets for a drug that will be used to stop the virus’s activity, or at least minimize damage to blood vessels” in Covid-19 patients, said Maoz.