Microgliosis and neuronal proteinopathy in brain persist beyond viral clearance in SARS-CoV-2 hamster model
Neurological symptoms such as cognitive decline and depression contribute substantially to post-COVID-19 syndrome, defined as lasting symptoms several weeks after initial SARS-CoV-2 infection. The pathogenesis is still elusive, which hampers appropriate treatment. Neuroinflammatory responses and neurodegenerative processes may occur in absence of overt neuroinvasion.
Here we determined whether intranasal SARS-CoV-2 infection in male and female syrian golden hamsters results in persistent brain pathology. Brains 3 (symptomatic) or 14 days (viral clearance) post infection versus mock (n = 10 each) were immunohistochemically analyzed for viral protein, neuroinflammatory response and accumulation of tau, hyperphosphorylated tau and alpha-synuclein protein.
Viral protein in the nasal cavity led to pronounced microglia activation in the olfactory bulb beyond viral clearance. Cortical but not hippocampal neurons accumulated hyperphosphorylated tau and alpha-synuclein, in the absence of overt inflammation and neurodegeneration. Importantly, not all brain regions were affected, which is in line with selective vulnerability.
Thus, despite the absence of virus in brain, neurons develop signatures of proteinopathies that may contribute to progressive neuronal dysfunction. Further in depth analysis of this important mechanism is required.
Federal Ministry of Health (BMG; ZMV I 1-2520COR501), Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF 01KI1723G), Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony in Germany (14 - 76103-184 CORONA-15/20), German Research Foundation (DFG; 398066876/GRK 2485/1), Luxemburgish National Research Fund (FNR, Project Reference: 15686728, EU SC1-PHE-CORONAVIRUS-2020 MANCO, no > 101003651).