The SARS-CoV2 envelope differs from host cells, exposes pro-coagulant lipids, and is disrupted in vivo by oral rinses


Journal of Lipid Research

Contributing to research themes:

The lipid envelope of SARS-CoV-2 is an essential component of the virus; however, its molecular composition is undetermined. Addressing this knowledge gap could support the design of anti-viral agents, as well as further our understanding of viral-host protein interactions, infectivity, pathogenicity, and innate immune system clearance. Using lipidomics analyses, we revealed that the virus envelope comprised mainly phospholipids (PL), with little cholesterol or sphingolipids, indicating significant differences from the composition of host membranes. Unlike cellular membranes, procoagulant aminophospholipids were present on the external side of the viral envelope at levels exceeding those on activated platelets. As a result, virions directly promoted blood coagulation. To investigate whether these differences could enable selective targeting of the viral envelope in vivo, we tested whether oral rinses containing lipid-disrupting chemicals could reduce viral infectivity. Products containing PL-disrupting surfactants (such as cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC)) met European virucidal standards in vitro; however, components that altered the critical micelle concentration reduced efficacy, and products containing essential oils, PVP-I, or Chlorhexidine were ineffective. This result was recapitulated in vivo, where a 30-second oral rinse with CPC mouthwash eliminated live virus in the oral cavity of COVID-19 patients for at least one hour, while PVP-Iodine and saline mouthwashes were found ineffective. We conclude the SARS-CoV-2 lipid envelope (i) is distinct from the host plasma membrane, which may enable design of selective anti-viral approaches; (ii) contains exposed PE and PS, which may influence thrombosis, pathogenicity, and inflammation; and (iii) can be selectively targeted in vivo by specific oral rinses.

Author list:


  1. Division of Infection & Immunity, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF14 4XN, UK
  2. Department of Pharmacology, University of Colorado Denver, Aurora, CO 80045, USA
  3. Core Facility Mass Spectrometry, Medical University of Graz, Stiftingtalstrasse 24, 8010 Graz, Austria
  4. Medical School, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK
  5. Division of Population Medicine, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF14 4XN, UK
  6. Division of Surgery, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, Heath Park, Cardiff, CF14 4XN, UK
  7. Advanced Therapies Group, School of Dentistry, Cardiff University, Heath Park, Cardiff CF14 4XY, UK
  8. ENT Department, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Wrexham Maelor Hospital, Wrexham, LL13 7TD
  9. Anaesthetics and Critical Care Directorate, Cwm Taf University Health Board, Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Llantrisant, CF72 8XR
  10. Haemostasis Diagnosis and Research, University Hospital Wales, Cardiff, CF14 4XN, UK
  11. Physical Organic Chemistry Centre, School of Chemistry, Cardiff University, Main Building, Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT


Zack Saud†1, Victoria J Tyrrell†1, Andreas Zaragkoulias1, Majd B Protty1, Evelina Statkute1, Anzelika Rubina1, Kirsten Bentley1, Daniel A. White1, Patricia Dos Santos Rodrigues1, Robert C Murphy2, Harald Köfeler3, William J Griffiths4, Jorge Alvarez-Jarreta1, Richard William Brown8, Robert G Newcombe5, James Heyman6, Manon Pritchard7, Robert WJ Mcleod6, Arvind Arya8, Ceri-Ann Lynch9, David Owens6, P Vince Jenkins10, Niklaas J. Buurma11, Valerie B O’Donnell1*, David W. Thomas7*, Richard J. Stanton1*