The blood-brain barrier is dysregulated in COVID-19 and serves as a CNS entry route for SARS-CoV-2
Neurological complications are common in COVID-19. Although SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in patients' brain tissues, its entry routes and resulting consequences are not well understood. Here, we show a pronounced upregulation of interferon signaling pathways of the neurovascular unit in fatal COVID-19. By investigating the susceptibility of human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived brain capillary endothelial-like cells (BCECs) to SARS-CoV-2 infection, we found that BCECs were infected and recapitulated transcriptional changes detected in vivo. While BCECs were not compromised in their paracellular tightness, we found SARS-CoV-2 in the basolateral compartment in transwell assays after apical infection, suggesting active replication and transcellular transport of virus across the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in vitro. Moreover, entry of SARS-CoV-2 into BCECs could be reduced by anti-spike-, anti-angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2)-, and anti-neuropilin-1 (NRP1)-specific antibodies or the transmembrane protease serine subtype 2 (TMPRSS2) inhibitor nafamostat. Together, our data provide strong support for SARS-CoV-2 brain entry across the BBB resulting in increased interferon signaling.
Institute for Neuropathology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany