Researchers at the Institut Pasteur may have discovered how the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is able to infect brain cells.
According to a study published in mid-August 2021 in the Lancet, Covid-19 could have a long-term impact on our cognitive faculties – and in particular on our memory and our thinking skills. And according to another study published in May 2022, 13% of patients with Covid-19 develop neurological damage.
Hence the following question: how does the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which enters the body through the airways (through the nose, in particular), manage to gain access to the brain?
Researchers at the Institut Pasteur have (perhaps) solved this mystery. In vitro, the scientists brought together a sample of SARS-CoV-2 with models of “brain” cells and “nose” cells.
The virus would travel through nanotubes to the brain
If they found that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was indeed unable to penetrate directly into brain cells (for lack of a particular receptor, called ACE2), “the virus stimulated [les cellules “du nez”] so that they develop tiny tubes, called nanotubes (…) that have formed connections with brain cells“.
Clearly: the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus would be able to use the cells that line the inside of the nose in order to access the brain via small “tunnels”. This study “provides a simple and effective mechanism for transferring the virus from one cell to another, without the need for ACE2 receptors” specify the researchers who published their work in the specialized journal Science Advances.
This discovery could allow the development of a drug intended to protect the brain in the event of Covid-19: “at the moment we don’t have a specific nanotube-blocking molecule, but we are screening for some“.
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