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SARS-COV-2 induces blood-brain barrier and choroid plexus barrier impairments and vascular inflammation in mice


The coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that has led to more than 700 million confirmed cases and near 7 million deaths. Although Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus mainly infects the respiratory system, neurological complications are widely reported in both acute infection and long-COVID cases. Despite the success of vaccines and antiviral treatments, neuroinvasiveness of SARS-CoV-2 remains as an important question, which is also centered on the mystery whether the virus is capable of breaching the barriers into the central nervous system. By studying the K18-hACE2 infection model, we observed clear evidence of microvascular damage and breakdown of the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Mechanistically, SARS-CoV-2 infection caused pericyte damage, tight junction loss, endothelial activation and vascular inflammation, which together drive microvascular injury and BBB impairment. In addition, the blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier at the choroid plexus was also impaired after infection. Therefore, cerebrovascular and choroid plexus dysfunctions are important aspects of COVID-19 and may contribute to the neurological complications both acutely and in long COVID.