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Current Genomics


ISSN (Print): 1389-2029
ISSN (Online): 1875-5488

Opinion Article

Could Small Neurotoxins-Peptides be Expressed during SARS-CoV-2 Infection?

Author(s): Concetta Cafiero*, Alessandra Micera*, Agnese Re, Loredana Postiglione, Andrea Cacciamani, Beniamino Schiavone, Giulio Benincasa and Raffaele Palmirotta

Volume 22, Issue 8, 2021

Published on: 31 December, 2021

Page: [557 - 563] Pages: 7

DOI: 10.2174/1389202923666211221111527

open access plus


SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis has been recently extended to human central nervous system (CNS), in addition to nasopharyngeal truck, eye, lung and gut. The recent literature highlights that some SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein regions homologous to neurotoxin-like peptides might bind to human nicotinic Acetyl-Choline Receptors (nAChRs). Spike-nAChR interaction can probably cause dysregulation of CNS and cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathways and uncontrolled immune-response, both associated to a severe COVID-19 pathophysiology. Herein, we hypothesize that inside the Open Reading Frame (ORF) region of spike glycoprotein, the RNA polymerase can translate small neurotoxic peptides by means of a “jumping mechanism” already demonstrated in other coronaviruses. These small peptides can bind the snAChRs instead of Spike glycoproteins. A striking homology occurred between these small peptides observed by sequence retrieval and proteins alignment. Acting as nAChRs antagonists, these small peptides (conotoxins) could be the explanation for the extrapulmonary clinical manifestations (neurological, hemorrhagic and thrombotic expressions, the prolonged apnea, the cardiocirculatory collapse, the heart arrhythmias, the ventricular tachycardia, the body temperature alteration, the electrolyte K+ imbalance and finally the significant reduction of butyryl cholinesterase (BuChE) plasma levels, as observed in COVID-19 patients. Several factors might induce the expression of these small peptides, including microbiota. The main hypothesis regarding the presence of these small peptides opens a new scenario on the etiology of COVID-19 clinical symptoms observed so far, including the neurological manifestations.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2 genome, infection, neurotoxins, acetylcholine, sequence alignment, microbiome

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