Targeting Host Defense System and Rescuing Compromised Mitochondria to Increase Tolerance against Pathogens by Melatonin May Impact Outcome of Deadly Virus Infection Pertinent to COVID-19


Tan DX, Hardeland R




Molecules . 2020 Sep 25;25(19):4410

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Fighting infectious diseases, particularly viral infections, is a demanding task for human health. Targeting the pathogens or targeting the host are different strategies, but with an identical purpose, i.e., to curb the pathogen’s spreading and cure the illness. It appears that targeting a host to increase tolerance against pathogens can be of substantial advantage and is a strategy used in evolution.

Practically, it has a broader protective spectrum than that of only targeting the specific pathogens, which differ in terms of susceptibility. Methods for host targeting applied in one pandemic can even be effective for upcoming pandemics with different pathogens. This is even more urgent if we consider the possible concomitance of two respiratory diseases with potential multi-organ afflictions such as Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and seasonal flu. Melatonin is a molecule that can enhance the host’s tolerance against pathogen invasions. Due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunoregulatory activities, melatonin has the capacity to reduce the severity and mortality of deadly virus infections including COVID-19. Melatonin is synthesized and functions in mitochondria, which play a critical role in viral infections. Not surprisingly, melatonin synthesis can become a target of viral strategies that manipulate the mitochondrial status.

For example, a viral infection can switch energy metabolism from respiration to widely anaerobic glycolysis even if plenty of oxygen is available (the Warburg effect) when the host cell cannot generate acetyl-coenzyme A, a metabolite required for melatonin biosynthesis. Under some conditions, including aging, gender, predisposed health conditions, already compromised mitochondria, when exposed to further viral challenges, lose their capacity for producing sufficient amounts of melatonin. This leads to a reduced support of mitochondrial functions and makes these individuals more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Thus, the maintenance of mitochondrial function by melatonin supplementation can be expected to generate beneficial effects on the outcome of viral infectious diseases, particularly COVID-19.

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