Berlin. It was originally called the lung virus, but now it’s clear: Sars-CoV-2 is more than that, it’s a multi-organ virus. In addition to the lungs, the researchers were also able to detect the pathogen in the brain, among other things. But how does the coronavirus get there?
Experts in neuropathology, pathology, forensics, virology and clinical care at the Berlin Charité have examined this question. They analyzed tissue samples from 33 people who had died in connection with Sars-CoV-2. in the Nature Neuroscience magazine they published their results, which show that the nerve cells of the olfactory mucosa transmit the coronavirus to the brain.
For the first time, intact corona particles were made visible
In their investigations, the scientists also examined individual cells in which they looked for the genetic material of the coronavirus and its spike protein. The highest viral load was ultimately found in the olfactory mucosa. With the help of special stains and electron microscope images, the researchers were able to make intact coronavirus particles visible for the first time. These particles were detectable both in nerve cells and on the extensions of the cover cells in the olfactory mucosa.
“Based on these data, we assume that Sars-CoV-2 can use the olfactory mucosa as an entry portal into the brain,” says Prof. Frank Heppner, director of the Institute for Neuropathology at the Charité, quoted in a communication from the university. “From the olfactory mucosa, the virus apparently uses neuroanatomical connections such as the olfactory nerve to reach the brain.”
Coronavirus can migrate from nerve cell to nerve cell
However, the neuropathologist points out that the study only looked at corona patients who had severe disease during their lifetime and then died as a result of the disease. “The results of our study can therefore not necessarily be transferred to mild or moderate cases.”
It is also largely unclear how exactly Sars-CoV-2 moves away from the nerve cells. “Our data suggest that the virus migrates from nerve cell to nerve cell to reach the brain,” says the neuropathologist Helena Radbruch from Charité, who also took part in the study. “At the same time, the virus is probably also transported via the blood vessel system, since the virus could also be detected in the vascular walls of the brain.”
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