In a new study, researchers found how COVID-19 increases the risk of stroke.
They made the finding by running fluid spiked with a COVID-19–like protein through a 3D-printed model of the arteries of a patient who had suffered a stroke.
The research was conducted by a team at UCLA.
Although COVID-19 was first identified by its severe respiratory symptoms, the virus has caused strokes in young people who had no known risk factors.
But little is known about how the virus increases the risk of stroke.
To learn more, the researchers used a 3D-printed silicone model of blood vessels in the brain to mimic the forces generated by blood pushing through an artery that is abnormally narrowed, a condition called intracranial atherosclerosis.
The models enabled the researchers to mimic the same forces that would act on real blood vessels during a COVID-19 infection.
They found that as those forces act on the cells lining the artery, and increase the production of a molecule called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2, which the coronavirus uses to enter cells on the surface of blood vessels.
The flow directly influences ACE2 expression.
This finding could explain the increased incidence of strokes seen in COVID-19 infections.
Another discovery offered an insight that eventually could help identify people with COVID-19 who may have a higher risk for stroke.
When the scientists analyzed which genes were turned on in the endothelial cells after the coronavirus spike proteins bound to them, they found that the genes that were activated were a specific set of immune-response genes that are found in brain blood vessel cells, but not in endothelial cells from other organs of the body.
There’s a unique brain endothelial response to the virus that may be helpful in identifying patients who have a higher risk for stroke.
The researchers plan to conduct follow-up studies using a live coronavirus in the 3D-printed blood vessel model, which would further confirm the results of the current study and clarify which COVID-19 patients may have a higher risk for stroke.
One author of the study is Dr. Jason Hinman, an assistant professor of neurology.
The study is published in Stroke.
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