Preventing COVID-19 infection of the nervous system

Preventing COVID-19 infection of the nervous system
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A number of research studies have shown that COVID-19 can attack neurons and the nervous system. This new research has identified ways to prevent the spread of infection within the central nervous system.

Invasion of COVID-19 through the nasal cavity can potentially cause neurological disorders in affected individuals. The research conducted at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) has identified possible ways to prevent the spread of coronaviruses, including the strain that causes a COVID-19 infection in the nervous system.

The study, led by Professor Pierre Talbot and his research associate Marc Desforges, now at CHU-Sainte-Justine, is published in the Journal of Virology.

Antiviral immunity

The research has demonstrated a direct link between neurovirulence, protein S cleavage by cellular proteases, and innate immunity. The team demonstrated that antiviral immunity arises from the production of interferons, which are frontline proteins that help to with early detection of the presence of the virus.

Talbot, who has been studying coronaviruses for nearly 40 years, said: “Using a common cold coronavirus, similar to SARS-CoV-2, we were able to show that cleavage of the S protein and interferon could prevent its spread to the brain and spinal cord in mice.”

The cleavage of the S protein by various cellular proteases is essential for these viruses to effectively infect cells and spread to various organs and systems including the central nervous system (CNS).

“Our results demonstrate that interferon produced by different cells, including olfactory receptors and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) producing cells in the brain, could modulate this cleavage. Thus, it could and does significantly limit the viral spread in the CNS and the severity of the associated disease,” says Marc Desforges, currently a clinical specialist in medical biology at the CHU-Sainte-Justine virology laboratory, pointing to two potential antiviral targets: protein S cleavage and effective interferon-related innate immunity.

“Understanding the mechanisms of infection and viral propagation in neuronal cells is essential to better design therapeutic approaches,” added Talbot. This is especially important for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and immunocompromised.”

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