A study from Fiocruz Minas observed that vitamin B12 regulates inflammatory processes that, during infection by the Sars-CoV-2 virus, are deregulated and lead to the COVID-19 worsening. The research compared blood samples from hospitalized patients with severe and moderate forms of the disease with blood samples from healthy people (volunteers without COVID-19), analyzing the expression of all genes by the defense cells, the leukocytes, in each of the groups. The analyses showed that the COVID-19 patients had altered expression of many genes, even though they had been on corticoid treatment for about 11 days. With the vitamin B12 introduction, the inflammatory expression and antiviral response genes in the patients approached that of healthy individuals, showing the efficacy of the vitamin in controlling inflammation.
The study shows that vitamin B12 regulates inflammatory processes that, during infection by the Sars-CoV-2 virus, are deregulated and lead to the COVID-19 worsening (photo: Fiocruz Minas)
All the data generated by the research have been published in an article, in a still preprint format, pending the peer review process that precedes the definitive version of the publication. According to the study, B12 attenuates a condition known as an inflammatory storm, caused by an excessive immune response in the body. B12 then acts as a regulator of this event by increasing the universal donor molecule production of a substance called methyl, capable of deactivating genes that favor inflammation.
“B12 increases the flux of the sulfur amino acid pathway, favoring the universal methyl donor production. With this, we have an increased methylation capacity of the cells, which leads to pro-inflammatory genes regulatory regions hypermethylation. This hypermethylation prevents the expression of the inflammatory genes, thus attenuating inflammation. It is as if we had a train track and put many obstacles on that track to prevent the train from passing. In our case, the rail would be the gene, the obstacles would be the methyl, and the train would be the enzyme machine that our cell uses to read the DNA. In other words, the more methyl in the genes, the less the enzymatic machine can express the inflammatory genes and, thus, it is possible to control inflammation,” explains researcher Roney Coimbra, study coordinator.
Previous studies had shown that COVID-19 affects the methylation of the inflammatory genes in leukocytes. This research from Fiocruz Minas shows, in a pioneering way, that it is possible to act on the regulation of this fundamental process for gene activity regulation by drug means, in this case, vitamin B12.
To verify the B12 safety, the research team introduced treatment with the vitamin in samples from healthy individuals and observed that there was no change in the expression levels of the genes evaluated. This shows the treatment safety, attesting to the B12 non-toxicity, and proves the vitamin efficiency specifically for the regulation of genes with altered expression in COVID-19.
“Importantly, before B12 can be safely used for the COVID-19 patients' treatment, a clinical study, i.e. directly in the human body, is still needed. It should also be emphasized that there is no point in taking the vitamin on its own, as a preventive measure, since our study only found the efficiency of B12 for the normalization of inflammatory processes altered by the disease,” says the researcher.
The research was carried out in partnership with Hospital Metropolitano Dr. Célio de Castro, located in Belo Horizonte, where the patients were recruited to provide the samples, as well as the clinical and laboratory data required for the analyses. The study also included the participation of researchers from the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) and the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).