Publication date: Jun 22, 2023
In some patients, COVID-19 can trigger neurological symptoms with unclear pathogenesis. Here we describe a microphysiological system integrating alveolus and blood-brain barrier (BBB) tissue chips that recapitulates neuropathogenesis associated with infection by SARS-CoV-2. Direct exposure of the BBB chip to SARS-CoV-2 caused mild changes to the BBB, and infusion of medium from the infected alveolus chip led to more severe injuries on the BBB chip, including endothelial dysfunction, pericyte detachment and neuroinflammation. Transcriptomic analyses indicated downregulated expression of the actin cytoskeleton in brain endothelium and upregulated expression of inflammatory genes in glial cells. We also observed early cerebral microvascular damage following lung infection with a low viral load in the brains of transgenic mice expressing human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2. Our findings suggest that systemic inflammation is probably contributing to neuropathogenesis following SARS-CoV-2 infection, and that direct viral neural invasion might not be a prerequisite for this neuropathogenesis. Lung-brain microphysiological systems should aid the further understanding of the systemic effects and neurological complications of viral infection.