Brazilian examine reveals the consequences of SARS-CoV-2 an infection on the central nervous system


A Brazilian examine printed within the journal PNAS describes a number of the results an infection by SARS-CoV-2 can have on the central nervous system. A preliminary model (not but peer-reviewed) posted in 2020 was one of many first to indicate that the virus that causes COVID-19 can infect mind cells, particularly astrocytes. It additionally broke new floor by describing alterations within the construction of the cortex, probably the most neuron-rich mind area, even in instances of delicate COVID-19.

The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of grey matter over the hemispheres. It’s the largest web site of neural integration within the central nervous system and performs a key function in advanced features reminiscent of reminiscence, consideration, consciousness, and language.

The investigation was carried out by a number of teams on the State College of Campinas (UNICAMP) and the College of São Paulo (USP), all funded by FAPESP. Researchers on the Brazilian Biosciences Nationwide Laboratory (LNBio), D’Or Institute (IDOR) and the Federal College of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) additionally contributed to the examine.

“Two earlier research detected the presence of the novel coronavirus within the mind, however nobody knew for certain if it was within the bloodstream, endothelial cells [lining the blood vessels] or nerve cells. We confirmed for the primary time that it does certainly infect and replicate in astrocytes, and that this may scale back neuron viability,” Daniel Martins-de-Souza, one of many leaders of the examine, instructed Agência FAPESP. Martins-de-Souza is a professor at UNICAMP’s Biology Institute and a researcher affiliated with IDOR.

Astrocytes are probably the most considerable central nervous system cells. Their features embody offering biochemical help and vitamins for neurons; regulating ranges of neurotransmitters and different substances which will intervene with neuronal functioning, reminiscent of potassium; sustaining the blood-brain barrier that protects the mind from pathogens and toxins; and serving to to take care of mind homeostasis.

An infection of astrocytes was confirmed by experiments utilizing mind tissue from 26 sufferers who died of COVID-19. The tissue samples had been collected throughout autopsies carried out utilizing minimally invasive procedures by Alexandre Fabro, a pathologist and professor on the College of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto Medical Faculty (FMRP-USP). The evaluation was coordinated by Thiago Cunha, additionally a professor in FMRP-USP and a member of the Heart for Analysis on Inflammatory Ailments (CRID).

The researchers used a method referred to as immunohistochemistry, a staining course of through which antibodies act as markers of viral antigens or different elements of the tissue analyzed. “For instance, we will insert one antibody into the pattern to show the astrocytes purple on binding to them, one other to mark the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein by making it inexperienced, and a 3rd to spotlight the virus’s double-stranded RNA, which solely seems throughout replication, by turning it magenta,” Martins-de-Souza defined. “When the pictures produced throughout the experiment had been overlaid, all three colours appeared concurrently solely in astrocytes.”

In response to Cunha, the presence of the virus was confirmed in 5 of the 26 samples analyzed. Alterations suggesting doable injury to the central nervous system had been additionally present in these 5 samples.

“We noticed indicators of necrosis and irritation, reminiscent of edema [swelling caused by a buildup of fluid], neuronal lesions and inflammatory cell infiltrates,” he stated.

The capability of SARS-CoV-2 to contaminate mind tissue and its desire for astrocytes had been confirmed by Adriano Sebolella and his group at FMRP-USP utilizing the strategy of brain-derived slice cultures, an experimental mannequin through which human mind tissue obtained throughout surgical procedure to deal with neurological illnesses reminiscent of drug-refractory epilepsy, for instance, is cultured in vitro and contaminated with the virus.

Persistent signs

In one other a part of the analysis, carried out in UNICAMP’s Faculty of Medical Sciences (FCM), 81 volunteers who had recovered from delicate COVID-19 had been submitted to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of their brains. These scans had been carried out 60 days after diagnostic testing on common. A 3rd of the individuals nonetheless had neurological or neuropsychiatric signs on the time. They complained principally of headache (40%), fatigue (40%), reminiscence alterations (30%), anxiousness (28%), lack of odor (28%), melancholy (20%), daytime drowsiness (25%), lack of style (16%) and low libido (14%).

“We posted a hyperlink for folks excited by collaborating within the trial to register, and had been stunned to get greater than 200 volunteers in just a few days. Many had been polysymptomatic, with broadly various complaints. Along with the neuroimaging examination, they’re being evaluated neurologically and taking standardized assessments to measure efficiency in cognitive features reminiscent of reminiscence, consideration and psychological flexibility. Within the article we current the preliminary outcomes,” stated Clarissa Yasuda, a professor and member of the Brazilian Analysis Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology (BRAINN).

Solely volunteers recognized with COVID-19 by RT-PCR and never hospitalized had been included within the examine. The assessments had been carried out after the top of the acute part, and the outcomes had been in contrast with knowledge for 145 wholesome uninfected topics.

The MRI scans confirmed that some volunteers had decreased cortical thickness in some mind areas in contrast with the typical for controls.

“We noticed atrophy in areas related, for instance with anxiousness, probably the most frequent signs within the examine group,” Yasuda stated. “Contemplating that the prevalence of hysteria problems within the Brazilian inhabitants is 9%, the 28% we discovered is an alarmingly excessive quantity. We did not anticipate these ends in sufferers who had had the delicate type of the illness.”

In neuropsychological assessments designed to judge cognitive functioning, the volunteers additionally underperformed in some duties in contrast with the nationwide common. The outcomes had been adjusted for age, intercourse and academic attainment, in addition to the diploma of fatigue reported by every participant.

“The query we’re left with is that this: Are these signs short-term or everlasting? Up to now, we have discovered that some topics enhance, however sadly many proceed to expertise alterations,” Yasuda stated. “What’s shocking is that many individuals have been reinfected by novel variants, and a few report worse signs than that they had because the first an infection. In view of the novel virus, we see longitudinal follow-up as essential to know the evolution of the neuropsychiatric alterations over time and for this understanding to function a foundation for the event of focused therapies.”

Vitality metabolism affected

In IB-UNICAMP’s Neuroproteomics Laboratory, which is headed by Martins-de-Souza, experiments had been carried out on mind tissue cells from individuals who died of COVID-19 and astrocytes cultured in vitro to learn the way an infection by SARS-CoV-2 impacts nervous system cells from the biochemical standpoint.

The post-mortem samples had been obtained by way of collaboration with the group led by Paulo Saldiva, a professor on the College of São Paulo’s Medical Faculty (FM-USP). The proteome (all proteins current within the tissue) was mapped utilizing mass spectrometry, a method employed to establish totally different substances in organic samples in accordance with their molecular mass.

“When the outcomes had been in contrast with these of uninfected topics, a number of proteins with altered expression had been discovered to be considerable in astrocytes, which validated the findings obtained by immunohistochemistry,” Martins-de-Souza stated. “We noticed alterations in varied biochemical pathways within the astrocytes, particularly pathways related to vitality metabolism.”

The following step was to repeat the proteomic evaluation in cultured astrocytes contaminated within the laboratory. The astrocytes had been obtained from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The tactic consists of reprogramming grownup cells (derived from pores and skin or different simply accessible tissues) to imagine a stage of pluripotency just like that of embryo stem cells. This primary half was carried out within the IDOR laboratory of Stevens Rehen, a professor at UFRJ. Martins-de-Souza’s crew then used chemical stimuli to make the iPSCs differentiate into neural stem cells and ultimately into astrocytes.

“The outcomes had been just like these of the evaluation of tissue samples obtained by post-mortem in that they confirmed vitality metabolism dysfunction,” Martins-de-Souza stated. “We then carried out a metabolomic evaluation [focusing on the metabolites produced by the cultured astrocytes], which evidenced glucose metabolism alterations. For some cause, contaminated astrocytes eat extra glucose than common, and but mobile ranges of pyruvate and lactate, the primary vitality substrates, decreased considerably.”

Lactate is likely one of the merchandise of glucose metabolism, and astrocytes export this metabolite to neurons, which use it as an vitality supply. The researchers’ in vitro evaluation confirmed that lactate ranges within the cell tradition medium had been regular however decreased contained in the cells. “Astrocytes seem to try to take care of the vitality provide to neurons even when this effort weakens their very own functioning,” Martins-de-Souza stated.

As an consequence of this course of, the functioning of the astrocytes’ mitochondria (energy-producing organelles) was certainly altered, probably influencing cerebral ranges of such neurotransmitters as glutamate, which excites neurons and is related to reminiscence and studying, or gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits extreme firing of neurons and might promote emotions of calm and leisure.

“In one other experiment, we tried to tradition neurons within the medium the place the contaminated astrocytes had grown beforehand and measured a higher-than-expected cell dying price. In different phrases, this tradition medium ‘conditioned by contaminated astrocytes’ weakened neuron viability,” Martins-de-Souza stated.

The findings described within the article verify these of a number of beforehand printed research pointing to doable neurological and neuropsychiatric manifestations of COVID-19.

Outcomes of experiments on hamsters carried out on the Institute of Biosciences (IB-USP), for instance, reinforce the speculation that an infection by SARS-CoV-2 accelerates astrocyte metabolism and will increase the consumption of molecules used to generate vitality, reminiscent of glucose and the amino acid glutamine. The outcomes obtained by the group led by Jean Pierre Peron point out that this metabolic alteration impairs the synthesis of a neurotransmitter that performs a key function in communication amongst neurons (extra at:

Unanswered questions

In response to Martins-de-Souza, there isn’t a consensus within the scientific literature on how SARS-CoV-2 reaches the mind. “Some animal experiments recommend the virus can cross the blood-brain barrier. There’s additionally a suspicion that it infects the olfactory nerve and from there invades the central nervous system. However these are hypotheses for now,” he stated.

One of many discoveries revealed by the PNAS article is that the virus doesn’t use the protein ACE-2 to invade central nervous system cells, because it does within the lungs. “Astrocytes haven’t got the protein of their membranes. Analysis by Flávio Veras [FMRP-USP] and his group exhibits that SARS-CoV-2 binds to the protein neuropilin on this case, illustrating its versatility in infecting totally different tissues,” Martins-de-Souza stated.

At UNICAMP’s Neuroproteomics Laboratory, Martins-de-Souza analyzed nerve cells and others affected by COVID-19, reminiscent of adipocytes, immune system cells and gastrointestinal cells, to see how the an infection altered the proteome.

“We’re now compiling the information to search for peculiarities and variations within the alterations attributable to the virus in these totally different tissues. 1000’s of proteins and lots of of biochemical pathways might be altered, with variations in every case. This data will assist information the seek for particular therapies for every system impaired by COVID-19,” he stated.

“We’re additionally evaluating the proteomic variations noticed in mind tissue from sufferers who died of COVID-19 with proteomic variations we have discovered over time in sufferers with schizophrenia. The signs of each circumstances are fairly comparable. Psychosis, probably the most traditional signal of schizophrenia, additionally happens in folks with COVID-19.”

The goal of the examine is to search out out whether or not an infection by SARS-CoV-2 can result in degeneration of the white matter within the mind, made up primarily of glial cells (astrocytes and microglia) and axons (extensions of neurons). “We have noticed a major correspondence [in the pattern of proteomic alterations] related to the vitality metabolism and glial proteins that seem vital in each COVID-19 and schizophrenia. These findings might maybe present a shortcut to remedies for the psychiatric signs of COVID-19,” Martins-de-Souza contemplated.

Marcelo Mori, a professor at IB-UNICAMP and a member of the Weight problems and Comorbidities Analysis Heart (OCRC), the examine was solely doable because of the collaboration of researchers with assorted and complementary backgrounds and experience. “It demonstrates that first-class aggressive science is at all times interdisciplinary,” he stated. “It is arduous to compete internationally when you keep inside your individual lab, confining your self to the strategies with which you are acquainted and the gear to which you will have entry.”


São Paulo Analysis Basis (FAPESP)

Journal reference:


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