Coronavirus may infect respiratory centre of brain, suggests research

The researchers have also suggested that attention should be focused on the respiratory centre of the central nervous system to learn about mortality due to coronavirus.

Published: 19th June 2020 09:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th June 2020 09:17 AM   |  A+A-

A personnel at a Covid screening centre displays the results of a test in Vasant Gaon in New Delhi on Thursday. (Photo | Shekhar Yadav/EPS)


NEW DELHI: A team of researchers at CSIR - Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), Kolkata has explored the neuro-invasive potential of COVID-19 and suggested that the virus may infect the respiratory centre of the brain, a statement said.

The researchers have also suggested that attention should be focused on the respiratory centre of the central nervous system to learn about mortality due to coronavirus.

The paper published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience and supported by Science & Engineering Research Board (SERB), a statutory body of the Department of Science & Technology (DST), implies that coronavirus could enter the human brain through the nose and reach the olfactory bulb of the brain.

From there, the virus might infect PreBotzinger complex (PBC), the primary centre of the brain that controls the respiratory rhythm generation.

This explains that collapse of the respiratory centre in the brain may be responsible for breakdown of COVID-19 patients.

The team of researchers comprising Dr.Prem Tripathi, Dr.Upasana Ray, Dr.Amit Srivastava and Dr. Sonu Gandhi suggested that while the lung is one of the most infected organs, several other organs, including the brain, are also affected by COVID-19.

This is the first report that highlights that SARS-CoV-2 may target the PBC of the brainstem that controls respiration and causes respiratory collapse of COVID-19 patients, the statement added.

The scientists have suggested that cerebrospinal fluid of COVID-19 patients and postmortem of the brain of the deceased should be assessed to better understand the route of SARS-CoV-2 entry and its spread to the respiratory centre of the brain.

The PreBotzinger complex functions as the primary respiratory oscillator and it has been proposed as a centre of respiration.

It has been earlier shown that disruption of PBC causes lethality due to respiratory failure, suggesting its central role in respiratory rhythm generation.

"It is possible that SARS-CoV-2 may shut down respiratory centre, and in turn breathing by infecting and destroying the PBC of the brainstem," it said, adding that this hypothesis needs to be validated for SARS-CoV-2.

Another recent study from a group of scientists at King's College London, UK highlighting that loss of smell was one of main symptoms of COVID-19 patients, hinting at the involvement of the same route through which coronavirus may enter the brain.

The study highlights that it is important to not only screen the COVID-19 patients for neurological symptoms but also further segregate when the symptom appears.

The researchers have pointed out that while at present, the brain is not considered as the site of primary or secondary reason for death of a COVID-19 patient, attention needs to be focused towards the brain's respiratory centre.

"Postmortem of brain of COVID-19 patients could be assessed to know the route of entry and affected areas including detailed assessment of respiratory centre of the brain," the statement added.

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