These genes trigger early-response molecules in the immune system which can stop reproduction of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, within airway tissues infected with the cold, the researchers said.
Triggering these defences early in the course of COVID-19 infection holds promise to prevent or treat the infection, said senior study author, Ellen Foxman, assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine in the US.
One way to do this, Foxman said, is by treating patients with interferons, an immune system protein which is also available as a drug.
"But it all depends upon the timing," she said.
Previous work showed that at the later stages of COVID-19, high interferon levels are associated with worse disease outcomes, and may fuel overactive immune responses.
However, recent genetic studies show that interferon-stimulated genes can also be protective in cases of COVID-19 infection.