Metabolic Processes Act as Biomarkers for Severe COVID

Source: Freepik

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have identified new metabolic processes that can act as biomarkers for severe COVID.

COVID-19 presents with a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from mild to moderate. However, some individuals can develop a severe infection. Thus, putting them at an increased risk of hospitalization and death. People with comorbids such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity are most at risk of a severe infection. Therefore, researchers are on the search for effective biomarkers that can help predict severe COVID and prevent a delay in treatment. In the past, researchers have looked at mitochondrial DNA as a potential predictor of disease severity.

Now, a team of researchers at Karolinska Institutet have identified new metabolic biomarkers that can cause the development of severe COVID. The results of the study are available in the journal Molecular & Cellular Proteomics.

We’ve identified a carbohydrate, mannose, as a biomarker for severe COVID-19.

Shuba Krishnan, study author

Hijacking Metabolic Pathways

Generally, viruses hop onto the host’s metabolic pathways to survive and spread throughout the body. Substances such as glucose and glutamine help the virus replicate and serves as an energy source. Previous studies have established that the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses the metabolic pathway AKT/mTOR/HIF-1. These pathways help regulate glycolysis in cells.

The team of researchers analyzed blood samples of 41 COVID patients using techniques such as plasma metabolomics. Results showed that coronavirus uses glycolysis and glutaminolysis pathways for attacking the cells in the lungs. Both of which play a significant role in the cell’s energy supply and function. Furthermore, researchers also noted certain toxic metabolites, such as lactate and glutamate, in samples of severely ill patients.

The study shows that when SARS-CoV-2 infects lung cells, glycolysis and glutaminolysis play an important part in its spread and growth.

Ujjwal Neogi, study author

One of the identified biomarkers, mannose is also implicated in the development of new-onset diabetes following COVID-19 infection. Therefore, study authors suggest further studies on the role and long-term impact of these metabolites in severe COVID patients. Moreover, researchers believe that blocking the pathways can serve as an effective treatment for viruses such as Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus and HIV-1.


Krishnan, S., et al. (2021) Metabolic perturbation associated with COVID-19 disease severity and SARS-CoV-2 replication. Molecular & Cellular Proteomics.


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