According to the research, published in Nature magazine, the Alpha variant’s new isolates “more effectively suppress innate immune responses in airway epithelial cells” compared to first wave isolates. According to the report, Alpha, which was first discovered in the UK in November 2020 and quickly spread around the world, “has dramatically increased” the protein levels of “innate immune antagonists.”
This means that Alpha has ‘learned’ how to evade the body’s first line of response. It does so by blocking the sensors in the airways, which under normal circumstances ‘warn’ the immune system of the virus’ presence and prompt it to produce the ‘anti-viral’ protein interferon.
The researchers say the “more effective innate immune suppression” increases the chances of transmission, as well as the duration of illness.
“It will be fascinating to see how the other variants, such as Delta and Omicron, perform comparatively in our lung epithelial systems,” a co-author of the research, Dr. Lucy Thorne, said, as quoted by Science Daily.
A better understanding of the mechanisms used by different variants to evade the immune defenses, “will teach us not only about the viruses themselves but also about human biology,” Thorne added.
The recent spread of the Omicron variant has caused a new wave of cases and prompted countries to reintroduce restrictions and travel bans.