A group of tiny RNAs that should attack the virus causing COVID-19 when it tries to infect the body are diminished with age and chronic health problems, a decrease that likely helps explain why older individuals and those with preexisting medical conditions are vulnerable populations, investigators report. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play a big role in our body in controlling gene expression, and also are a front line when viruses invade, latching onto and cutting the RNA, the genetic material of the virus, says Sadanand Fulzele, PhD, Aging Researcher in the Department of Medicine and Center for Healthy Aging at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) at Augusta University. But with age and some chronic medical conditions, the attacking microRNA numbers dwindle, reducing our ability to respond to viruses, says Dr. Carlos M. Isales, MD, Co-Director of the MCG Center for Healthy Aging and Chief of the MCG Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism. Much like not having enough troops on the ground in an actual war, the coronavirus is then better able to do what it does naturally, which is hijack our cell machinery so it can replicate, say the researchers who report, with collaborators, in an article published online for the June 2020 issue of Aging and Disease what appear to be key microRNAs involved in responding to this virus. They have a longer-term goal of identifying the biggest hitters and replenishing those troops.
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