SARS-CoV-2 can infect the human brain
With mass vaccination efforts underway, there is hope that the worst of the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic may soon be over. Nevertheless, much remains unknown about SARS-CoV-2’s effects on organ systems other than the lungs, notably the central nervous system (CNS). Though multiple studies indicate direct infection of neurons, a full understanding of the virus’s neuroinvasive capability remains elusive. This is an important issue as many COVID-19 patients continue to suffer neurological and neuropsychiatric symptoms once the acute disease resolves.
In an intriguing study by Song et al., the authors use human brain organoids, a human ACE2-expressing mouse model, and brain tissue samples from COVID-19 patients as three distinct yet complementary approaches to investigate the consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection of the brain (1). Their findings offer compelling evidence for ACE2-dependent infection of CNS neurons with subsequent viral replication and neuronal death. SARS-CoV-2 elicited transcriptional changes and a variable immune response that differed from what is observed with ZIKV, another neurotropic virus. In addition, vascular abnormalities as well as evidence of hypoxia and microinfarcts were detected in infected mouse and human brain tissue. In summary, the results of Song et al. elegantly demonstrate SARS-CoV-2’s neurotropism, establishing a basis for the development of potential interventions to ameliorate or prevent persistent CNS-related sequelae.
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