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Studying organ failure due to SARS-CoV-2

Date: 10 December 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous


The scientists have discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can shut down energy production in cells of the heart, kidneys, spleen, and other organs.



Understanding how virus can hijack our cells might eventually lead to new ways to prevent or treat the organ failure that can accompany COVID-19 in humans.



  • SARS-CoV-2 relies on the ACE2 protein to infect humans. But the virus doesn't recognize the mouse version of ACE2, so healthy mice exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus don't get sick.

  • In previous experiments by other research teams around the world, mice have been genetically engineered to have the human version of ACE2 in their lungs and then been infected through their noses with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

  • Although that enables the virus to infect the mice and cause pneumonia, animals in those experiments don't get as broad a range of other symptoms as humans do.

  • Research in humans has suggested that SARS-CoV-2 can circulate through the bloodstream to reach multiple organs. So the researchers first engineered mice to have the human version of ACE2 in the heart and other vital organs.



  • Within seven days, all of the mice with COVID-19 had stopped eating and were completely inactive, and had lost, on average, about 20% of their body weight.

  • Animals that had been engineered to carry the human ACE2 protein but had not been infected with the virus, on the other hand, did not lose a significant amount of weight.

  • Moreover, the COVID-19 infected animals had altered levels of immune cells, swelling of the heart tissue, and wasting away of the spleen -- all symptoms that have been observed in people who are critically ill with COVID-19.

  • They discovered other signs of disease such as the molecular processes that help cells generate energy, known as the tricarboxylic acid cycle, or TCA cycle, and electron transport chain, were shut off in the heart, kidney, spleen, and lungs.

  • In addition to temporarily altering which genes were turned on and off in some cells, the virus made epigenetic changes -- chemical alterations to the structure of DNA that cause more lasting effects. 

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