Examine reveals astrocytes as breeding grounds of SARS-CoV-2 throughout mind an infection

In a latest examine revealed in PNAS, researchers evidenced the presence of extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) within the human mind, infecting astrocytes and impairing neuronal perform and viability.

Study: Morphological, cellular, and molecular basis of brain infection in COVID-19 patients. Image Credit: Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock
Examine: Morphological, cellular, and molecular basis of brain infection in COVID-19 patients. Picture Credit score: Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock


Of all of the extrapulmonary results reported in coronavirus illness 2019 (COVID-19) sufferers, essentially the most pronounced signs contain the central nervous system (CNS). A few of the long-term problems past 4 weeks of acute SARS-CoV-2 an infection are neuropsychiatric. Within the affected affected person inhabitants, cognition and neurological impairment are according to substantial harm to the CNS. A earlier examine demonstrated the presence of SARS-CoV-2 ribonucleic acid (RNA) for so long as three months after the acute stage in sufferers exhibiting neurological signs. Additional, these sufferers had altered cerebral cortical areas and axonal accidents and suffered from a lack of white matter.

Not too long ago, research have additionally evidenced the presence of SARS-CoV-2 proteins in mind areas of COVID-19 sufferers. SARS-CoV-2 an infection could cause astrogliosis, microgliosis, and immune cell accumulation within the human mind. Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 can cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB), as seen in mice fashions, and infect human mind organoid cells in vitro.

Regardless of a rising physique of proof for neurological and neuropsychiatric signs in COVID-19 sufferers, there’s a lack of information of molecular mechanisms governing SARS-CoV-2 mind an infection and its subsequent impression on human mind construction and performance.

Concerning the examine

Within the current examine, researchers analyzed the mind tissue samples of 26 people who died of COVID-19 utilizing a minimally invasive post-mortem through endonasal transethmoidal entry. They used histopathological indicators of mind harm as a information for attainable SARS-CoV-2 mind an infection. Moreover, the researchers investigated dwelling sufferers and preclinical in vitro and ex vivo fashions.

Additional, they carried out a cortical surface-based morphometry evaluation on 81 topics with gentle COVID-19 inside a median of 57 days after SARS-CoV-2 detection by quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain response (qRT-PCR). For this evaluation, the researchers had a management group comprising 81 wholesome volunteers with out neuropsychiatric comorbidities.

Moreover, the group assessed episodic verbal reminiscence, sustained consideration, alternating consideration, and cognitive flexibility in a subgroup of 61 contributors. Additionally they performed a liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC/MS) proteomic evaluation on 12 postmortem mind samples from COVID-19 sufferers and eight SARS-CoV-2–destructive controls. Lastly, the researchers’ cultured neural stem cells (NSC)-derived neurons in a conditioned medium the place SARS-CoV-2–contaminated astrocytes may propagate.

Examine findings

In vitro experiments confirmed that NSC -derived human astrocytes had been prone to SARS-CoV-2 an infection by means of a non-canonical mechanism that concerned spike (S)–neuropilin-1 (NRP1) interplay. These astrocytes additionally confirmed adjustments in vitality metabolism and key metabolites used to gasoline neurons and within the biogenesis of neurotransmitters. Notably, contaminated astrocytes secreted but unidentified components that led to neuronal loss of life.

Moreover, the conditioned medium elevated the apoptosis charges by 22.7% in NSC-derived neurons. The potential of neuronal an infection was dominated out as SARS-CoV-2 RNA was not detected in both cell sort after publicity to the conditioned medium, and direct publicity to SARS-CoV-2 didn’t cut back the viability of NSC-derived neurons after 24, 48, or 72 hours. These outcomes prompt that SARS-CoV-2–contaminated astrocytes launch soluble components, which cut back neuronal viability.

An evaluation of cortical thickness revealed areas of lowered cortical thickness solely within the left hemisphere or the orbitofrontal area attributable to its proximity and communication with the nasal cavity. The neuropsychological analysis revealed that 70% and 36% of people skilled fatigue and daytime sleepiness, respectively. Practically 28% of contributors offered impairments in fast episodic verbal reminiscence, and ∼34% and 56% underperformed on Coloration Trails A and B, respectively. Notably, 77% of those COVID-19 sufferers additionally offered acute anosmia or dysgeusia, seemingly associated to the noticed cortical thickness adjustments.

Histopathological evaluation revealed alterations according to necrosis and irritation in 5 of 26 mind tissue samples. These 5 samples additionally had SARS-CoV-2 RNA and S protein. Since SARS-CoV-2 preferentially infects astrocytes, of the 656 differentially expressed proteins, astrocytes expressed the very best. Additionally, the LC/MS evaluation of SARS-CoV-2–contaminated astrocytes confirmed vital adjustments in metabolic intermediates of glycolysis, together with pyruvate and lactate. Collectively, these outcomes demonstrated a discount in these metabolites produced by SARS-CoV-2–contaminated astrocytes that supported neuronal metabolism and performance.


Astrocytes are the principle vitality reservoirs of the mind, important for mind homeostasis, and likewise play a vital position in defending mind cell harm triggered by pathogenic infections or sterile irritation. The present examine outcomes prompt that anxiousness and despair signs had been additionally partially related to SARS-CoV-2 an infection. In vivo findings indicated cortical atrophy, neuropsychiatric signs, and cognitive dysfunctions within the mind tissue of COVID-19 sufferers. Curiously, sufferers with gentle COVID-19 additionally exhibited cortical atrophy within the superior temporal gyrus, beforehand described in a bunch of sufferers with extreme SARS-CoV-2 an infection.

Thus, the examine raised the likelihood that neuroinvasion noticed in deadly COVID-19 instances may very well be operative in gentle COVID-19. Subsequently, COVID-19 therapies ought to embody methods to forestall SARS-CoV-2 invasion of the CNS.

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