Coronaviruses (CoVs) are a group of single stranded RNA viruses, of which some of them such as SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 are associated with deadly worldwide human diseases. Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), a condition caused by SARS-CoV-2, results in acute lung injury (ALI)/acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) associated with high mortality in the elderly and in people with underlying comorbidities.
Results from several studies suggest that CoVs localize in mitochondria and interact with mitochondrial protein translocation machinery to target their encoded products to mitochondria. Coronaviruses encode a number of proteins; this process is essential for viral replication through inhibiting degradation of viral proteins and host misfolded proteins including those in mitochondria. These viruses seem to maintain their replication by altering mitochondrial dynamics and targeting mitochondrial-associated antiviral signaling (MAVS), allowing them to evade host innate immunity. Coronaviruses infections such as COVID-19 are more severe in aging patients. Since endogenous melatonin levels are often dramatically reduced in the aged and because it is a potent anti-inflammatory agent, melatonin has been proposed to be useful in CoVs infections by altering proteasomal and mitochondrial activities. Melatonin inhibits mitochondrial fission due to its antioxidant and inhibitory effects on cytosolic calcium overload.
The collective data suggests that melatonin may mediate mitochondrial adaptations through regulating both mitochondrial dynamics and biogenesis. We propose that melatonin may inhibit SARS-CoV-2-induced cell damage by regulating mitochondrial physiology.