Proteins in saliva strongly associated with diagnosis of severe COVID-19

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Researchers have identified a family of proteins that is significantly elevated in the saliva of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The proteins, known as ephrin ligands, could potentially serve as a biomarker to help doctors identify patients at risk for serious disease.

Ephrins are detectable in saliva samples and could serve as complementary markers to monitor COVID-19 disease progression. We can collect saliva without harm or discomfort to most patients, which can reveal patient responses to COVID-19 and potentially guide care. »


Erika Egal, DMV, PhD, author of the study, postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Patrice Mimche, PhD, Department of Pathology. University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City

Egal will present the results at the annual meeting of the American Physiological Society at the Experimental Biology (EB) 2022 meeting, held in Philadelphia April 2-5.

For the study, the researchers analyzed saliva samples taken from patients admitted to the emergency department at the University of Utah Hospital with respiratory symptoms. Sixty-seven of the patients tested positive for COVID-19 while 64 patients did not. They found that the presence of ephrin ligands in saliva was strongly associated with the diagnosis of severe COVID-19.

The researchers said the study results could help shed light on the biological processes involved in severe responses to COVID-19 infection. Previous studies suggest that ephrins play a role in injury and inflammation. Scientists say more research is needed to determine whether ephrin levels are linked to a higher likelihood of hospitalization, serious illness or death. Additionally, as new viral variants emerge, it can be difficult to tell whether existing COVID-19 tests are able to accurately detect infections involving new variants. Looking for ephrins in saliva could offer a simple, non-invasive way to provide corroborating evidence if there is any inconsistency between test results and the clinical picture, Egal said.

“Saliva is full of information beyond detecting COVID-19 infection itself,” Mimche said. “We demonstrate that immune cells, cytokines, and soluble proteins can be reliably measured from saliva samples. Our results provide a starting point for investigations into the causal pathways between infection and bad medical results.”

The research was supervised by Mimche in collaboration with Theodore Liou, MD, and My N. Helms, PhD, of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Utah Health, as part of a multidisciplinary project to better understand the biology of SARS-CoV-2 and how it causes severe COVID-19 infections.

Equal will present this research from 2:45-3 p.m., Monday, April 4, in Room 204 B, Pennsylvania Convention Center (abstract) and 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5 in Exhibit/Poster Hall AB (abstract). Contact the media team for more information or to obtain a free press pass to attend the meeting.

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