Saturday , May 8 2021

Sugar molecules form a protective shield against coronaviruses – points of attack – with healing application

Max Planck Institute determines new coronavirus attack point

A German research team used a new analysis method to reveal a previously unknown point of attack in the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The team showed that some sugar molecules protect the spike protein and protect a large part of immune defense cells. However, the working group also discovered less well-conserved areas of the spike protein that could be targeted.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysics in Frankfurt am Main were able to use a dynamic SARS-CoV-2 model to understand a protective function of the virus that protects spiky proteins from immune defense cells. The investigation also revealed weak spots in the virus’s protective shield. The results were recently presented in the famous expert magazine “Plos”.

Spike protein as an important property of SARS-CoV-2

As the working group emphasized, the spike protein is an essential feature of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 because it can infect cells by adhering to the surfaces of cells with the help of the protein. Extensive research has led to the creation of detailed models of the coronavirus and its higher protein. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute have now further developed these models.

Previous models of the spike protein were static and could not represent motion. For the first time, the new model is able to simulate the movements of the spike protein and surrounding glycan chains.

Like a windshield wiper

Simulations show that the sugar molecules on the spike protein act as a dynamic protective shield that helps the virus escape from the human immune system. Researchers compare the protective function to a windshield wiper that cleans a car’s windshield. Glycans act back and forth on the spike protein, preventing neutralizing antibodies from adhering to the spike protein.

Not all places are equally protected

However, the research also showed that not all locations are equally well protected. Similar to a windshield wiper, sugar molecules do not cover all areas of the spike protein. Some regions are less protected by the glycan shield than others, the researchers said. Some of the areas discovered were already identified as weak spots in previous studies, while others are hitherto unknown.

New starting points against SARS-CoV-2 mutations

“We are in an ever-changing epidemic phase with the emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2, with mutations particularly concentrated in the spike protein,” explains Mateusz Sikora, of the research team. The new approach can support the design of vaccines and therapeutic antibodies, especially if already established methods fail.

Finding vulnerabilities on viral proteins

At the same time, the developed method represents a new way to find potential weak spots on other viral proteins, summarizing the research team at the Max Planck Institute. Recently, an American research team discovered another weak spot in the spike protein of the coronavirus: You can find more information on this in the article: “COVID-19: New vulnerability in identified virus”. (vb)

Author and source information

This text complies with the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.


Diploma-Editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Max Planck Society: Dynamic model of Sars-CoV-2 spike protein, showing targets for new vaccines (publication date: 04/01/2021),
  • Mateusz Sikora, Sören von Bülow, Florian EC Blanc, et al .: Computational epitope map of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein; in: Plos Computational Biology, 2021,

Important note:
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It cannot replace a doctor’s visit.

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