In a new study, researchers found new evidence that the COVID-19 virus can infect the human brain.
The research was conducted by a team at the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology (SIAT) and elsewhere.
COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, also known as the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
Over 17 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 686,703 associated deaths have been reported across 218 countries and geographical regions as of August 3.
This novel coronavirus primarily causes a respiratory illness with clinical manifestations largely resembling those of SARS.
However, brain symptoms including headache, anosmia, confusion, seizure, and encephalopathy have also been frequently reported in COVID-19 patients.
A recent study of 214 COVID-19 patients in Wuhan found that 36.4% of all patients and 45.5% of severe cases had neurologic symptoms.
In addition, studies from France and Germany have revealed that 84.5% and 36.4%, respectively, of COVID-19 patients, had viral infections in the brain.
However, there has been no direct experimental evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the human central nervous system (CNS).
In the study, the team examined SARS-CoV-2 infection in human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs), neurospheres, and brain organoids.
Neural progenitors are cells that are capable of dividing a limited number of times. A neurosphere is a culture system composed of free-floating clusters of neural stem cells.
A cerebral organoid, or brain organoid, describes artificially grown, in vitro, miniature organs resembling the brain.
The team found extensive protein expression and infectious viral particles were detected in neurospheres and brain organoids infected with SARS-CoV-2.
This suggested SARS-CoV-2 could strongly infect the human brain.
This study provides the first evidence of direct SARS-CoV-2 infection in human brain organoids.
It contributes to the understanding of the pathogenesis of neurological complications in COVID-19.
The research team suggested that chronic and long-term consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection of the CNS should be closely monitored.
One author of the study is Prof. Huang Jiandong from HKU.
The study is published in Cell Research.
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