Art by Sophia Zhao.
As scientists learn about the various effects of the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen on the body, researchers at UPenn and Johns Hopkins might have discovered a mechanism through which the virus affects brain cells. Using human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC)—which can differentiate into any cell type—these scientists created a monolayer of brain cells. This contained several kinds of brain cells, including neurons, astrocytes, and choroid plexus epithelial cells. The researchers found that all cell types were infected by the virus, but the epithelial cells were targeted to a greater extent. They then created a choroid plexus epithelial cell tissue from hiPSCs. These cells produce cerebrospinal fluid, which serves as an immune barrier for the brain. They found that when infected with SARS-Cov-2, cells would die at a greater rate, show function deficits and produce an inflammatory response. This suggested that the coronavirus shows neurotropism (an attraction, or affinity, to brain cells) and may cause several neurological complications in patients.