13 May 2020

Does coronavirus use an extra receptor to infect our cells?


The A.P. Møller Foundation has granted DKK 400,000 to a research project that shall uncover how coronavirus infects human cells. The researchers are looking at the role of a specific potential new receptor. If it works the way they think, they will test the drug potential of already known substances to treat the novel coronavirus.


The novel coronavirus infects human cells by binding to a protein on the cell surface called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2). But it may not be the only protein that the virus binds to.

The A.P. Møller Foundation has just granted more than DKK 400,000 to a research project from the University of Copenhagen. The researchers will investigate whether the coronavirus may also use another receptor to enter the cells – which could bring new drugs for treatment of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, into play.

‘If our theory holds true, that is, if the novel coronavirus uses a specific, different receptor to enter our cells, then we have a number of substances on hand that could be potential drug candidates. We can then start testing them for treatment of SARS-CoV-2’, says Associate Professor David Woldbye, the Department of Neuroscience at the Faculty of Health & Medical Sciences, the University of Copenhagen.

Another Coronavirus Has Used the Same Receptor
The receptor is found on many of the body's cells, including lung cells, the gastrointestinal tract, brain, blood vessels and immune cells. Previous experiments show that another coronavirus – closely related to SARS-CoV-2 – which causes disease in pigs, can use the new receptor to enter cells. Therefore, the researchers believe that there is a certain chance that SARS-CoV-2 may also use the new receptor.

The researchers also know that other kinds of viruses can use several different receptors to enter our cells. For example, the virus that causes rabies uses as many as three receptors to enter our cells.

‘Positive results will quickly open up for testing of already existing substances which we have in our freezer, and which may be candidates for treatment. Given the fear of a second wave and perhaps a third wave of this virus, it would be risky not to do everything we can to find treatment for COVID-19’, says David Woldbye.

The project will last four months and is performed in collaboration with Professor Ulrik Gether, the Department of Neuroscience, and Professor Ali Salanti, the Department of Immunology and Microbiology.

Associate Professor David Woldbye
+45 40 15 63 89