From The Lab: Scientists gauge the impact of Covid-19 virus on the human brain

·2-min read

A recent international study involving scientists from the Paris Brain Institute and Yale School of Medicine has tried to address whether Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can infect the human brain.

Dr Nicolas Renier of the Paris Brain Institute, who was a part of the study, said the big surprise of their research was to find the neurons in the brain getting infected by the virus in both the in vitro and animal models.

Sars-Cov-2 is considered to primarily affect the respiratory tract in a majority of the cases. However, there have been reports that indicated the possibility of the virus causing brain damage in some of the patients.

In their models, the scientists found that not only does Sars-Cov-2 infect the neurons, but that this infection also changes the metabolism of the neurons. “This could affect the oxygen demands from the neurons, which could explain the loss of neurons and neuronal death following viral infection,” Dr Renier said.

“Of course, our study, which was conducted in labs, shows the possibility of the virus affecting the neurons in the brain. But the study does not definitely say that this is actually what happens in the human patients and more research is needed to address this point,” he added.

Speaking about his lab’s contribution to the study, Dr Renier said they used new technologies developed at the Paris Brain Institute to determine the presence of the virus and its distribution in the brain in the animal models.

“We are experts in 3D imaging of the brain. Our imaging technologies showed exactly the locations of the infected neurons. We also did a characterisation of the vascular damage in the brain that can be caused by the presence of the virus,” he said.

When asked whether mutations in the virus could result in other organs being infected, Dr Renier said that even though the disease is linked to the respiratory tract, many other organs in the body are affected by the virus.

“In terms of viral mutation, anything is possible. But the virus already uses a door to enter into the cells, and this ACE 2 door is rather ubiquitously expressed in the body. So we could say that the lock is already present in most of the organs in the body. The virus has a natural capacity to infect most of the organs, and more research is needed to better understand it” he says.