Airway pathology with SARS-CoV-2 virus from neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs)
Fishermen’s nets occasionally catch on nearby coral and do unintended damage to the ocean floor. Neutrophils are the body’s fishermen, immune cells casting nets to catch invasive microbes such as the COVID-19 virus. They release sticky webs made of DNA (blue in the web from a patient pictured) and proteins (green and red), called neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). However these traps can also cause collateral damage, and may be causing lung problems associated with severe COVID-19 infections. To investigate, two studies searched for these NETs in samples from patients, and found them clustered in the lungs, clogging tiny airways and restricting blood flow. They even found that the virus can infect neutrophils and trigger excess NET production, causing the death of lung cells in lab tests. Treatments to prevent NET release negated the effects, however, suggesting this could help the ever-increasing number of patients in hospitals around the world.
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