Distant sequence similarity between hepcidin and the novel coronavirus spike glycoprotein: a potential hint at the possibility of local iron dysregulation in COVID-19
The spike glycoprotein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, has attracted attention for its vaccine potential and binding capacity to host cell surface receptors. Much of this research focus has centered on the ectodomain of the spike protein. The ectodomain is anchored to a transmembrane region, followed by a cytoplasmic tail. Here we report a distant sequence similarity between the cysteine-rich cytoplasmic tail of the coronavirus spike protein and the hepcidin protein that is found in humans and other vertebrates. Hepcidin is thought to be the key regulator of iron metabolism in humans. An implication of this preliminary observation is to suggest a potential route of investigation in the coronavirus research field making use of an already-established literature on the interplay of local and systemic iron regulation, cytokine-mediated inflammatory processes, respiratory infections and the hepcidin protein. The question of possible homology and an evolutionary connection between the viral spike protein and hepcidin is not assessed in this report, but some scenarios for its study are discussed.