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Coronavirus Brain Breach

Mini brain model cells get infected with SARS-CoV-2, like lung cells do, through ACE2 protein

08 February 2021

Coronavirus Brain Breach

This image shows the virus responsible for COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 (red), in the act of infecting and killing human brain cells, with dead cells shown in green. The cells aren’t those of a patient’s brain of course, which would be impossible to study in this way, but instead belong to a brain organoid – a sort of mini brain made from living human cells that researchers use as a stand-in for the real thing. Such studies revealed SARS-CoV-2 directly infects brain cells via the ACE2 receptor – the same entry point used to invade lung cells – providing a possible explanation for the neurological symptoms some COVID-19 patients experience. The symptoms, which include loss of smell and taste, headaches, fatigue, and brain fog, sometimes persist even after respiratory symptoms clear up. Knowing how the virus wreaks havoc in the brain may therefore lead to specific treatments for tackling these lingering and debilitating issues.

Written by Ruth Williams

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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