COVID-19: major discovery by a Quebec expert on the source of neurological problems

A researcher from Laval University discovered how the SARS-CoV-2 virus caused neurological problems of vascular origin in at least 30% of people hospitalized.

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Confusion, memory impairment and, in the most severe cases, stroke, are believed to be closely linked to the S protein of the COVID-19 virus, the one that allows it to bind to human cells.

The team led by Ayman ElAli, professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Université Laval and researcher at the CHU de Québec-Université Laval Research Center, discovered this mechanism by putting the S protein of the virus in the presence of specialized cells of the brain, pericytes.

“Pericytes are cells that surround the small blood vessels in the brain,” Prof. ElAli explained. According to him, they play an essential role in the regulation of cerebral blood flow, ensure the stabilization of the vascular network and modulate the inflammatory response.

By reproducing the conditions of what occurs during a severe infection with COVID-19, the researchers demonstrated that in the presence of the S protein, these cells undergo transformations that increase their ability to contract.

However, if the contractions are excessive, blood flow could decrease, thus depriving brain tissue of oxygen. “It is the equivalent of a small stroke, without there being a clot”, illustrated Professor ElAli.

“Our results suggest that the disruption of interactions between protein S and pericytes in the brain could be a promising avenue for preventing or reducing neurological complications of vascular origin due to the COVID-19 virus,” said M ElAli.

Details of this discovery were published in the December issue of the journal Neurobiology of Disease.

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