[Photo Caption]: Magnified image of the autopsy carried out by the study. Choroid plexus cells are shown in blue while the green area shows remnants of the new coronavirus.
A study conducted by IDOR in partnership with other institutions found a concentration of new coronavirus in the central nervous system structure
Researchers of the D’Or Institute for Research and Education (IDOR), UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and Instituto do Cérebro [The Brain Institute] have found that the coronavirus is able to hack into children’s central nervous system (CNV) from the choroid plexus and cause a series of major side effects. This unprecedented discovery is one of the many findings of several studies conducted by Ciência IDOR Contra a COVID-19 (CIC-19) and a major warning against the potential of neurological side effects in any type of population. It was also the topic feature of the article published this Monday (9/14) on a pre-print platform. Though awaiting review by other scientists, this study racked up hundreds of downloads a few minutes after it was released.
Possible effects of the new coronavirus upon the CNV caught everyone by surprise soon after the pandemic outbreak. Since March it has been found strange that one of the particular symptoms of the disease was the loss of smell (anosmia), which is also a symptom of respiratory tract infections as well as of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis. Soon after that, cases of stroke were reported in various age patients who had no apparent risk factors, as well as in a substantial percentage of patients who had severe COVID-19 infection. The process through which such cases of hypercoagulation and thrombosis developed was also investigated by another CIC-19 study.
The present publication is about research triggered by the autopsy of a one-year-old infant who did not resist pulmonary failure caused by pneumonia-induced COVID-19. As another recent CIC-19 study had brought to light, children that have any chronic neurological or respiratory comorbidities have a higher possibility of developing severe COVID-19, which was the case of the one-year-old infant who had encephalopathy – a condition that modifies the functioning or the structure of the brain – and had epileptic seizures.
Although SARS-Cov-2 does not directly damage cells such as neurons, the infant’s autopsy revealed a major viral infection in the choroid plexus, a structure of the CNS that has a hematoencephalic barrier – a structure that isolates the brain from the rest of the organism– and which is more fragile than the one found in other areas of the brain, thus making it more vulnerable to infections. Additionally, the choroid plexus has a large quantity of ACE2 “receptor,” the protein that provides the entry point for the SARS-Cov-2 virus to hook into and infect human cells. This protein can also be found in the lungs.
The major cause for COVID-19 complications is an amplified inflammation called a cytokine storm, which may lead to several blocked vessels in various organs, thus threatening their functioning and resulting in strokes. In cases of large neurological damage, a rupture of the hematoencephalic barrier may occur and make the brain vulnerable to viral particles, inflammatory processes, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and possible sequels after recovery. In the investigated case, the infection caused by SARS-Cov-2 resulted in the infant developing pneumonia and meningitis. The thrombosis caused damages to multiple organs such as the kidneys, lung, heart and pancreas.
The article highlights that despite being alarming, cases like the one investigated are rare, both in children and in adults, although the differences in COVID-19 outcomes between children and adults are not clear yet. Although the SARS-Cov-2 infection is not able to spread in the CNS, the researchers have concluded that it may be seriously affected as a side effect. The findings of this study also open up paths for further research and for the development of drugs that are able to reduce or even prevent such worrisome outcomes.